Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Questions altered from:

Danger: “And so occasionally, we do exceedingly foolish things like sneaking out of the house in the dead of night, because it’s impossible to stand near the flame consuming everything around you and not have some of that fire catch the hem of your skirt, too” (Cleeton 33)  What were some of the foolish things we saw our characters do? Would you do the same?

Identity:  When Marisol arrives in Cuba she struggles with identifying as Cuban because she grew up in the United States and because she has never set foot on Cuban soil.

  • How much does a physical place define one’s identity?
  • How does Marisol’s trip alter her views about being Cuban and change her perception of herself?
  • How do Marisol and her family attempt to keep their heritage alive in exile?
  • Are there stories and rituals handed down through the generations in your family?
  • The novel alternates between Elisa Perez’s life in Cuba in 1958 and 1959 and her granddaughter Marisol Ferrera’s trip to Cuba in 2017. Which woman did you identify with more?

Sacrifice: How do the characters make sacrifices for one another, and what are some examples of them risking their safety and security for their loved ones? How do you think you would have acted in similar situations?

Family: Family is central to this novel.  Stories which are passed down through the generations have an impact.  

  • Do you have any such stories or lessons which have been instilled or passed down to you?
  • Do family connections come with obligations?  How do we see that struggle in Marisol and Elisa?

Friends:  Ana Rodriguez is Elisa’s best friend (even given distance of location and time).  Why is she important to the text and how does she connect to Marisol?

Love: Like her grandmother, Marisol falls in love with a man who has revolutionary political leanings. What similarities can you see between Pablo’s and Luis’s dreams for Cuba? What differences are there in their worldviews?

Longevity of this type of relationships:

  • Do you think Elisa and Pablo would have worked out?
  • Do you think Luis and Marisol will last?
  • Despite coming from very different backgrounds, Marisol and Luis share many similarities that bring them together as a couple. What are some examples of this? Why do you think they get along so well? Do you think they are a good influence on each other?

History: What did you know about Cuba before?  What do you think about Cuba’s history now?

Have your views of Cuba changes from reading this text?

  • Americans: As Americans, how do we reconcile the role played and still pay in the history of Cuba?
  • Political: Pablo tells Elisa that everything is political. Do you agree with him?
  • “Even in a country where everyone is supposed to be equal, there are clear disparities between those who have little and those who have less” (Cleeton 231)

Self Connection: Elisa chooses to save her letters from Pablo and her memories of their romance by burying them in a box in the backyard. If you had a box in which to bury your most precious possessions, what would you choose to keep safe?

Difference of Opinion:  Some people stay to create change, while others flee and try to help from a distance.  Which do you think is most effective?

Brother: Alejandro was disowned by his family because “he attempted to assassinate the president” (Cleeton 82).  In the end, do you feel that he got what he deserved? (exile from family and ultimately his death)

Twists: There were a number of surprises.

  • When Elisa moves to Miami, she is carrying Pablo’s child.
    • Was this a shock to you?
    • Do you think her family knew?
    • Do you think he new husband knew?
  • Marisol’s kidnapping:
    • The reveal of Pablo Garcia as her grandfather (281)

Female: “To be a woman in Cuba is to suffer” (Cleeton  311) Is this a distinctly Cuban view or does that apply to others?

Home:  She says, “There is no home for us in a world where we can’t speak our minds for fear of being thrown in prison, where daring to dream is a criminal act, where you aren’t limited by your own ability and ambition, but instead by the whims of those who keep a tight rein on power” (Cleeon 351). Marisol struggles to feel at home in Cuba, but does anyone fully feel at home?

Reflection: Elisa’s final wish is to have her ashes scattered over Cuban soil. Do you think Marisol picked the best place to spread Elisa’s ashes? How did you feel about this resolution to Elisa’s death?

Toast –  “Next year in Havana — it’s the toast we never stop saying, because the dream of it never comes true” (Cleeton 229)



Ropa Vieja:

Black Beans:

Baked Plantains:

Pastelitos de Guayaba:

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