Next Year in Havana

Next Year in Havana combines love with past political strife and current day oppression.  This story has two main characters, a grandmother and granddaughter and each one narrates an important time in their lives.  The grandmother’s story takes place in 1958 during the Cuban Revolution and the granddaughter’s story unfolds in 2017 when America lifted some sanctions against Cuba. 

Elisa Perez is the 19-year-old daughter of a successful businessman and is living a charmed life in the wealthiest part of Havana.  The Cuban Revolution is causing general unrest and fueling a growing divide between the upper and working classes of Cuba.  One night, Elisa meets and falls in love with a Cuban Revolutionary.  When the Cuban President flees the country, chaos ensues, and rich citizens become the target of the new regime and the Cuban people.  Elisa and her family are forced to flee and leave behind everything they love, their homeland, house, friends, family and more.   

Mirasol Ferrera is the granddaughter of Elisa Perez.  Mirasol’s parent’s divorced when she was young, and Elisa reared her, ensuring the Cuban heritage remained central in both of their lives.  When Elisa Perez dies, Mirasol is asked to take her Grandmother’s ashes to Cuba, an act that is not permitted by the Cuban government.  Mirasol, a lifestyle writer, seeks permission from her magazine editor to write an article on Cuban tourism so Mirasol travel to Cuba and spread her grandmother’s ashes. 

While in Cuba, Mirasol uncovers secrets of her grandmother’s past.  Through the eyes of a young Cuban history professor, Mirasol witnesses first-hand the continued oppression of the Cuban people and the corruption that still exists.  Over a period of a few days we see Mirasol fall in love, question whether she really knew her grandmother and open her eyes to the suffering of the Cuban people. 

Overall, I enjoyed the novel which contains some small surprises to keep it interesting.  Several elements such as the flowery writing and the clothing descriptions, don’t add much value and the love stories that take place are not that original.  However, these issues do not create significant distraction.  The most compelling parts of the story are the candid views into what life was like in Cuba sixty years ago during the revolution and how little has changed, especially when it comes to freedom of speech.  Also, the author does a beautiful job of showing the differences in perspectives between those who stayed in Cuba and those who fled.  Does one betray a country by leaving?  Or does one betray it by staying and working within the system?  The author’s ability to weave these delicate issues into a love story makes for a compelling read.