When We Left Cuba
by Chanel Cleeton
Penguin Random House | Berkley
Formats available: Paperback, Electronic, Audio
Pub Date: 4.9.19| 368 pages
REVIEWER: Sophia Rose
E-arc provided by publisher through Net Galley for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
In 1960s Florida, a young Cuban exile will risk her life—and heart—to take back her country in this exhilarating historical novel from the author of Next Year in Havana, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick.
Beautiful. Daring. Deadly.
The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez—her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro’s inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.
As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future—but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything—not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart…
Last year, the release of Next Year in Havana brought me into the world of Cuban Americans and Cuba of the 50s and 60s through the eyes of two separate Perez women told in split time stories. The Perez sisters were introduced in Elisa’s story and I couldn’t help being captivated by the fiery Perez sister, Beatriz. It was with high anticipation I waited when I discovered that we were to be given Beatriz’s own story.
When We Left Cuba opens with Beatriz learning of the death of Castro in 2016, but then it dips back into her life right after her family escaped Cuba and came to live in Palm Beach. Her family is impoverished by their former standards as a wealthy and prestigious in the highest society, but now are forced to start fresh with the smaller amount her father had in overseas accounts and start at the bottom of the Palm Beach society’s social ladder. Her mother is in full matchmaking form.
But Beatriz is angry and frustrated. She wants revenge for Castro having her twin brother killed and for causing them to flee their country. She is already looking for ways to get involved in the groups working to get Cuba out of Castro’s hands. She’s even willing to get in bed with the CIA if that’s what it takes. She will not marry for status or wealth or to please family; she will make a difference. She looks with blase interest in the American men who prostrate themselves for her beauty and spirit. She wants none of that.
Then she meets, Nicholas Preston, friend of Kennedy, son of wealth and power, and likely senate candidate on the eve of his engagement. One look, a dance, and a brief conversation and the star-crossed pair know they are all wrong and yet perfectly right.
There is a powerful star-crossed romance in this one because it involves the clash of two strong personalities who know and respect each other down to the bone, but are set on two separate ideological paths. But it is not only a romance. This is, again, the story of Cuba, Cuban Americans, and a woman who will not be pigeon-holed into the expected life or worry about what others think. She will go her own way. Beatriz is not stupid nor is she hopelessly naive, but she is very angry and feels helpless as her world crashed around her and she lost the person closest to her. She gets involved in the gray world of espionage and plots. It was suspenseful without heading into thriller territory. Where the first book was bittersweet and nostalgic. This one follows a woman of action set during the intense times of revolutionary Central and South America, rise of communism, Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy years. I was riveted.
The reader goes into this knowing were Beatriz is at in 2016 so that is a small comfort and knows some of what came before for her when she lived with her family in Cuba, but now there were the in between years. The promise of Beatriz’s story lived up to and surpassed expectation. While this is a companion novel rather than part of a series, I still recommend that readers pick up Next Year in Havana first just to get the earlier years and then go into this one. I can highly recommend both.
My thanks to Berkley via Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.