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Continuing with the Rights & Responsibilities Challenge:

11) Enlist or be drafted.
Read a romance in which one or more of the lead characters is in the military. Or read a romance set during a war at any time in history or in any fantastical world, either on the homefront or in battle.

I picked up Chanel Cleeton’s Next Year in Havana, published in 2018, having heard many good things about it. And, I must say, it lives up to its promise.

This story switches back and forth between two time lines. The first is present day Cuba, where Marisol Ferrera, a 30 year old American woman of Cuban descent is visiting her grandmother’s place of birth for the first time. On the surface, Marisol is a travel and lifestyle writer who is planning an article on the sights and sounds of Cuba for potential tourists who may visit as relations with the United States evolve. But, surreptitiously, she is carrying her recently deceased grandmother’s ashes, hoping to spread them somewhere meaningful in Cuba, according to her grandmother’s wishes. Upon arriving, Marisol is met by Luis Rodriguez, the 36 year old grandson of Ana – the childhood friend of Marisol’s grandmother, Elisa. Luis is a history professor at the University of Havana who also helps Ana run a restaurant that she opened in a small part of her once palatial home in the hopes of making much needed money from the tourists. She, her daughter, and Luis started the business years ago, but only recently was this officially sanctioned by the Castro regime. Further on the down low, Luis also has been blogging, under an assumed identity, arguing against the regime’s tyranny. As you can tell, there are multiple layers to everyone’s identity and activities, contrasting with what seems to be a simple, tired, ramshackle island paradise.

The second timeline is set in 1959 Cuba, in the tumultuous years, months, and days leading up to the overthrow of Batista, the authoritarian ruler backed by the U.S. Elisa Perez is one of four daughters of a wealthy sugar planter and his socialite wife. The family’s roots go back to the founding of the country and they have led a very privileged life, while poverty and injustice rain around them. In fact, the one son of the family, disassociated himself from his kin and is off conspiring with one of the rebel groups trying to rid Cuba of Batista. Amidst this percolating violence, Elisa and her sisters meet friends, shop, attend parties, and every once in a while come face to face with the fringes of the burgeoning revolution. It’s at one of these gatherings that 19 year old Elisa meets and instantly sparks with 30 year old Pablo Garcia, a lawyer, who hasn’t been practicing much law lately. But, instead, he’s been working and fighting with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

During these separate — but connected — time periods, we follow the relationships of the two sets of lovers, especially as they are impacted, on the one hand, by revolution and on the other by the everyday strictures, fears, and indignities of living under a tyrant.

No one in this story is exactly who they appear to be at first. Although I could guess some of the revelations, that didn’t make the story less enjoyable or interesting. I really grew to care about and root for characters, even though I knew they all couldn’t end up happy. And, in fact, I teared up over and wondered about the fates of a few people towards the end – not just our main characters but even supporting players. Going into this book, I didn’t know much about the Cuban Revolution or its aftermath, so I did learn a few things. However, this book is definitely not heavy on history. The main focus is on the effects the Revolution had on these characters, where they stood – both literally and morally — how they coped, how they loved, and what compromises they made. The only downside I would note, is that I found the ending a little rushed, a little less compelling, leaving a number of plot lines feeling unfinished, but I’d still give the story a heartfelt A.

The Alphabet Challenge Variation – 13 down, 5 to go (R, D, L, J, A, G, N, B, C, E, F, H, Q …)

Rights & Responsibilities Challenge – 13 down, 5 to go