WHEN WE LEFT CUBA is the second in a series about a Cuban family who were forced to flee Havana when Castro ruthlessly took over their homeland. NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA is the first of this stunning series and was published with much acclaim last spring. Now Cleeton is back with a continuation of the saga of the Perez family. This time Beatriz, the oldest sister, is the protagonist. What a force she is.
The family has settled into Palm Beach society where the patriarch has been busy reestablishing the family fortune and getting his sugar business back up and running albeit from an entirely different location, of course. The mother is very hard at work trying to marry off her daughters. Beatriz is not having it. The story begins with a young man down on his knee proposing to Beatriz. It’s her fifth one and her mother is livid because Beatriz is turning all the eligible men down. This is where I was worried. I feared this novel would be a light romance. I was prepared to be disappointed. Well, fear not, it quickly snapped to attention and became a real page-turner.
WHEN WE LEFT CUBA is filled with espionage, politics of the sixties, Florida culture, Cuban exiles, love, revenge, confusion, murder, and beauty. Cleeton’s knowledge of politics is clear as a bell in this novel. The scenes in the book bring back so much history. History I lived through as a young girl. I remember the Bay of Pigs. I remember thinking my family would have to go to the cellar. Watched my mom fill the shelves with imperishable food and water. Thank God, we did not have to use any of it. I remember, though. I remember the day President Kennedy was shot. Devastating. I remember the fear of communism. Cleeton has done her job showing us these parts of history.
We follow Beatriz Perez through her affair with a man deeply involved with the politics of the day. So much in love. But so utterly wrong for each other. We watch her move through the society of Palm Beach. I fell in love with the gorgeous beach house and its floor to ceiling windows. I found myself calmed by the scenes where Beatriz would recline with a book in front of the ocean. What a charmed life, you may think. But not all charmed.
Beatriz Perez hit the ground in South Florida with an agenda. She had lost so much upon leaving her home in Havana. Not just mourning the slaughter of her twin brother, but losing her home and her country; her identity. She became a woman bent on revenge. So when the opportunity to work with the CIA came along, she was all in. Even if it meant losing the man she loved. Even if it meant losing a part of her family.
Cleeton has a way with words. She also has family who lived in Cuba. Some of them were exiled to Florida. So she knows what she writes about. And it shows. Brilliantly.
I have been thinking of visiting Cuba for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid my grandmother used to tell me stories of flying a plane to Havana. She captivated me. Back in the old days before the revolution. I was fascinated. But for years it was all but impossible. Now, my husband and I have booked a trip to Cuba for our anniversary this summer. I finally will get to see it for myself. I hope to get some good photos and bring back some great stories to share on the blog.
For now, this new novel WHEN WE LEFT CUBA, will be enough. I look forward to the next installment which is slated for next spring.
I thank Berkley Publishing, a division of Penguin Random House, for providing my review copy in exchange for an honest review. I did love it so. Thanks, guys.
We have copies of WHEN WE LEFT CUBA as well as copies of NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA at Copperfish Books. We’d love to see you. Come on up.