“My grandmother loved a revolutionary,” says Marisol Ferrera, returning to Cuba 60 years after her family fled the island only to find herself falling for another attractive rebel.
Romance readers who enjoy their love stories leavened with a sizable measure of earnest political history will warm to Cleeton’s (On Broken Wings, 2017, etc.) new novel, which offers parallel tales of entwined hearts challenged by oppressive regimes. Elisa Perez, one of the four “sugar queens”—the privileged daughters of a Cuban sugar baron—is the first star-crossed lover. Living in luxury in Havana in the late 1950s, Elisa and her sisters are shielded from the imminent revolution by their father’s money and allegiance to the status quo, but then Elisa falls for Pablo, “Fidel [Castro]’s eyes and ears in the city.” In the 21st century, Florida-based lifestyle journalist Marisol smuggles her grandmother’s ashes back to Cuba, obeying Elisa’s wishes to be reunited in death with the country from which she had been exiled. Once in Havana, Marisol discovers not only her family’s roots and the letters revealing Elisa and Pablo’s secret passion, but also her own emotional fulfillment in the form of Luis, the grandson of Elisa’s best friend. Cleeton delivers the two women’s descents into dangerous romance with persuasive intensity, but her descriptions of Pablo’s and Luis’ commitments to challenging the political establishment and her larger commentary on Cuba’s long, troubled history make for a heavy contrast. “Why is the Cuban convertible peso so important?” asks Marisol, setting the reader up for another solid slab of social/historical/financial exposition. Somber and humor-free, the novel feels uncomfortably strung between its twin missions to entertain and to teach detailed, repetitive factual lessons.
A love story and an homage to the history of the Cuban people, the latter significantly overshadowing the former.