When We Left Cuba

Written by Chanel Cleeton
Review by Julia C. Fischer

Last year, Chanel Cleeton’s Next Year in Havana was one of Reese Witherspoon’s book club selections, and it introduced readers to the Perez family in revolutionary Cuba, specifically Elisa Perez, and her granddaughter Marisol in the present-day. In When We Left Cuba, Cleeton continues her chronicle of the Perez family, this time turning her attention to Elisa’s passionate older sister, Beatriz. The family, having escaped the revolution and Fidel Castro’s ensuing regime, is living in Palm Beach, Florida and grappling with their new, much changed circumstances. Beatriz, fueled by her desire to avenge her twin brother’s death, becomes involved with the CIA in the hope of killing Castro and ending communism in the country to which she so desperately wants to return. While engaging in espionage, Beatriz falls in love with an American senator and discovers that her childhood friend, who is also fighting for the Cuban cause, loves her. But Beatriz’s personal life takes second place to her mission.

Cleeton’s book and her memorable character of Beatriz Perez crackle with life and intensity. Outspoken, independent, and myopic in her desire to kill Castro, Beatriz boldly makes her way in a man’s world and never apologizes for it. When We Left Cuba is chock full of espionage, murder, romance, politics, family drama, and themes of national identity. Cuban history of the 1960s especially takes center stage, with the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis factoring prominently into the plot. Ultimately, Beatriz must ask herself if returning to Cuba and her old life will ever be possible, for Cuba will never be what it once was. Can we ever really go home? If you loved Next Year in Havana, read this straightaway!