Next Year in Havana

Cuban American writer Marisol Ferrera grew up on her grandmother's stories: richly described tales of the Perez family's comfortable life in Havana before the revolution. The daughter of a sugar baron, Elisa Perez was forced to flee with her family when Fidel Castro and his men ousted Batista in 1959. Marisol loves her life in Miami, but has always dreamed of visiting her family's homeland. When Elisa dies, she leaves Marisol a letter and a final request: that her granddaughter travel to Havana and spread her ashes in the city she loved.

In the 1950s, Elisa and her sisters--protected and wealthy--are dimly aware of the rumblings of revolution in their city, though their brother has been caught up in the fervor. When Elisa meets Pablo, a young lawyer and compatriot of Fidel, she is torn between the family she loves and the man she can't stop thinking about. Half a century later, Marisol is drawn to Luis, the grandson of Elisa's best friend, for similar reasons. A history professor who writes anonymously online, Luis gives voice to his fierce love of his country and equally fierce hatred of the Cuban government. But his writings may have consequences for his family, and Marisol wonders if she can truly understand a man who shares her nationality but almost nothing of her life experience.

In Next Year in Havana, Chanel Cleeton moves back and forth between her protagonists' narratives, evoking the glamour and danger of 1950s Cuba. Her novel explores the tangled reality of being Cuban: persistent despair, stubborn hope and flashes of defiant joy, as well as a deeply rooted love for a complicated home. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams