Find Me in Havana

Written by Serena Burdick
Review by Melissa Warren

Actress Estelita Rodriguez lived the American dream. Her young daughter called John Wayne “Uncle Duke.” Her smile and voice captivated audiences on stage and screen, and her lighthearted laugh and beauty made her a member of Hollywood’s elite. But what was the price of that dream? Serena Burdick’s stunning and heartbreaking novel answers that question.

The starlet navigated revolution, kidnapping, and violence while sprinting towards a dream she had been chasing since she first sang in a Cuban nightclub at the age of nine. Shortly after, she left behind family and country for the Copacabana Nightclub, only to find a world dominated by men and their desires. As Burdick explores the deep scars of this journey, she conjures breathtaking images of Hollywood’s Golden Age while exploring the devastating impact of sexual violence perpetrated by husbands, fathers, and soldiers alike.

The author built this story from interviews with Nina Lopez, Estelita’s daughter. Burdick carefully works her way through the decades that defined this mother and daughter. Each chapter alternates between the two voices and layers love, confusion, and longing as the pair work to overcome the forces that keep them apart.

Estelita’s tragic story captures the most beautiful and most painful moments of motherhood, artistic drive, and limitless ambition. More importantly, it explores the ceaseless destruction of sexual violence and finds hope in unexpected places. I highly recommend it.