Book Review: ‘When we left Cuba’ by Chanel Cleeton

I learnt about the Cuban Missile Crisis all those years ago during GCSE History which is one of the reasons why I picked up the book, that and the rare occurrence of female spies.

The novel is set mainly in Palm Beach in Florida where the Perez’ family, having fled Cuba, try to integrate themselves into high society and marry off their daughters. Beatriz, who’s story we follow is a rather likable character – strong willed and unwilling to bend to familial pressures to marry well.  The only word that I am able to label her with is that she has a deep sense of ‘hiraeth’ which is a Welsh word transcribing the fact that she is missing something – for her it is of a different time, a time where she was in Cuba. This seeped through the pages and made me notice the similarities between how she felt then and how we live now. We are so interconnected through technology and have the ability to travel so far away from our roots that we are able to settle wherever we please without sacrificing relationships and yet perhaps ‘hiraeth’ is woven into our soul.  We seek mountaintops and sunsets to feel something but when we physically leave a part of us never leaves, not completely.  We see it in our mind when we dream, when we feel sad or lonely.  We all seek for some sort of utopia where have have all our favourite things in one square mile.

Although the mild scandals and occasional breath-taking kisses make for a good historical romance, it feels a little lacking in the espionage sense.  Nerve-racking spy scenes are built up but fail to deliver as they are glossed over quickly in order to connect little communist threads together for the final scene.  What disappointed me was that Beatriz had such incredible conviction in her determination to help change Cuba by taking down Fidel Castro but this energy was dissipated in the detail lacking spy scenes.

Saying that, she is a complex character and is a refreshing change to others which become house/trophy wives.  She remains true to who she was in the beginning and makes a life for herself, becoming independent of the men in her life.  It has a strong ending conveying legacy and heritage and the promise of change to come in a way that says that we may not have seen the last of the unconventional Beatriz Perez.

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