A few months ago, I travelled to Cuba and decided to bring with me books set over there to accompany me during the trip. Choosing stories which were happening in the very places I was walking by completely changed my reading experience for the better. My mind sparked with excitement as I recognized the sites visited by the characters of my books. Apart from Hemingway’s famous The old man and the sea, I picked what I now consider to be one of my best 2020 reads: Next year in Havana. After her grandmother Elisa passed away, Marisol, a Cuban-American journalist, leaves her monotonous life in Miami to explore the roots of her identity. Her journey in Havana uncovers heavy family secrets and makes her question everything about her sense of belonging.
The story taught me a lot about Cuba’s history as the narrator alternates between the family’s perspective in 1958 and that of Marisol in 2017. The descriptions were so atmospheric that I felt the exact same way when I was walking the streets of Havana. Cleeton also paints an impressive picture of the lingering expressions of Cuba’s rich history, which I witnessed on my own when I conversed with locals. The only aspect of the story which could have been improved is the high predictability of the romance between some of the characters.
Here are some quotes that I really like:
“Havana is like a woman who was grand once and has fallen on hard times, and yet hints of her former brilliance remain, traces of an era since passed, a photograph faded by time and circumstance, its edges crumbling to dust.”
“To be in exile is to have the things you love most in the world – the air you breathe, the earth you walk upon – taken from you. They exist on the other side of a wall – there and not – unaltered by time and circumstance, preserved in a perfect memory in a land of dreams.”