Excerpt from Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Next Year in Havana

by Chanel Cleeton

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton X
Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
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    Feb 2018, 400 pages

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Chapter One
Elisa


Havana, 1959
 How long will we be gone?" my sister Maria asks.

"Awhile," I answer.

"Two months? Six months? A year? Two?"

"Quiet." I nudge her forward, my gaze darting around the departure area of Rancho-Boyeros Airport to see if anyone has overheard her question.

We stand in a row, the famous-or infamous, depending on who you ask-Perez sisters. Isabel leads the way, the eldest of the group. She doesn't speak, her gaze trained on her fiancé, Alberto. His face is pale as he watches us, as we march out of the city we once brought to its knees.

Beatriz is next. When she walks, the hem of her finest dress swinging against her calves, the pale blue fabric adorned with lace, it's as though the entire airport holds its collective breath. She's the beauty in the family and she knows it.

I trail behind her, the knees beneath my skirts quivering, each step a weighty effort.

And then there's Maria, the last of the sugar queens.

At thirteen, Maria's too young to understand the need to keep her voice low, is able to disregard the soldiers standing in green uniforms, guns slung over their shoulders and perched in their eager hands. She knows the danger those uniforms bring, but not as well as the rest of us do. We haven't been able to remove the grief that has swept our family in its unrelenting curl, but we've done our best to shield her from the barbarity we've endured. She hasn't heard the cries of the prisoners held in cages like animals in La Cabaña, the prison now run by that Argentine monster. She hasn't watched Cuban blood spill on the ground.

But our father has.

He turns and silences her with a look, one he rarely employs yet is supremely effective. For most of our lives, he's left the care of his daughters to our mother and our nanny, Magda, too busy running his sugar company and playing politics. But these are extraordinary times, the stakes higher than any we've ever faced. There is nothing Fidel would love more than to make an example of Emilio Perez and his family-the quintessential image of everything his revolution seeks to destroy. We're not the wealthiest family in Cuba, or the most powerful one, but the close relationship between my father and the former president is impossible to ignore. Even the careless words of a thirteen-year-old girl can prove deadly in this climate.

Maria falls silent.

Our mother walks beside our father, her head held high. She insisted we wear our finest dresses today, hats and gloves, brushed our hair until it gleamed. It wouldn't do for her daughters to look anything but their best, even in exile.

Defiant in defeat.

We might not have fought in the mountains, haven't held weapons in our glove-covered hands, but there is a battle in all of us. One Fidel has ignited like a flame that will never be extinguished. And so we walk toward the gate in our favorite dresses, Cuban pride and pragmatism on full display. It's our way of taking the gowns with us, even if they're missing the jewels that normally adorn them. What remains of our jewelry is buried in the backyard of our home.

For when we return.

To be Cuban is to be proud-it is both our greatest gift and our biggest curse. We serve no kings, bow no heads, bear our troubles on our backs as though they are nothing at all. There is an art to this, you see. An art to appearing as though everything is effortless, that your world is a gilded one, when the reality is that your knees beneath your silk gown buckle from the weight of it all. We are silk and lace, and beneath them we are steel.

We try to preserve the fiction that this is merely a vacation, a short trip abroad, but the gazes following us around the airport know better-

Beatriz's fingers wrap around mine for one blissful moment. Those olive green-clad sentries watch our every move. There's something reassuring in her fear, in that crack in the facade. I don't let go.

Excerpted from Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton. Copyright © 2018 by Chanel Cleeton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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