Cuba, 1958. Elisa is only sixteen years old when she meets Duardo and she knows he’s the love of her life from the moment they first dance the rumba together in downtown Havana. But Duardo is a rebel, determined to fight in Castro’s army, and Elisa is forced to leave behind her homeland and rebuild her life in distant England. But how can she stop longing for the warmth of Havana, when the music of the rumba still calls to her?
England, 2012. Grace has a troubled relationship with her father, whom she blames for her beloved mother’s untimely death. And this year more than ever she could do with a shoulder to cry on – Grace’s career is in flux, she isn’t sure she wants the baby her husband is so desperate to have and, worst of all, she’s begun to develop feelings for their best friend Theo. Theo is a
From the publishers, Quercus Books, as part of their #QuercusSummer series, in exchange for a review. Long time readers of this blog know I am not a huge “beach read book” kinda girl, but I do have a penchant for romance novels. Therefore, this challenge was a bit of a risk take for me (there was a brief “oh what have I done?” whilst looking at my TBR) when I realised I had signed up for another challenge.
Anyway, onto the book:
This is set mainly in two countries and two main time frames:
- Cuba in the early 1950s, when Castro and revolution are in the air. People are poor, there is not enough food, state oppression is all around them but there is colour and there is family and the possibility of something better
- Bristol 2012 where there is food on the table, space to live and love, people are not poor, but there is no colour and people are still fighting to liberate themselves from some form of oppression at a personal level
There are other time frames as well, such as the 1930s, when Duardo’s mother finds another kind of oppression and dignity, and 1985 when Elisa is forced into making a choice.
A narrative trick that can throw readers who are not paying attention – and not one I see being used too often – is the narrative changing timeline partway through a paragraph. Here’s it’s used a couple of times, normally to indicate someone coming out of a memory. It did interrupt me once or twice but just showed that I wasn’t paying the attention I probably should have. (Disappointingly there is a review that has knocked a star off simply because of the changes in timeline. Sorry, if you can’t cope with this narrative structure, the problem is yours as the reader, not the author’s).
The story is told from multiple standpoints, but mainly Elisa and Grace – not only how they interact with each other as step-family, but also how they individually interact with the men in their lives, some of whom they share (father/husband; Friend/lover; husband/son-in-law).
For Grace, the oppression she feels is mainly from her husband and his family, who are putting pressure on her to have children and give up whatever she has defined as “freedom”. For Elisa, it’s the choices she has made over the years, from pressures that generally she has put on herself.
In the last third of the book, the location changes from Bristol to Cuba, and there is a change in focus to be about fathers and grandsons, mothers and sons and ultimately woman to woman.
It is apparent that the author has done some extensive research – the hope and the desire for freedom that fed the Castro revolution and the disappointment years later when those that were left started coming to terms with the fact that it hadn’t delivered what they thought it would – they were still poor and hungry.
In Summary then: this was not a genre I normally read, but I managed to consume it in a couple of days. Good use was made of the dichotomy between Havana and Bristol whilst bringing their shared history together as well. The narrative structure makes you pay attention to, so no skimming or slipping allowed!
About this author
Rosanna Ley has worked as a creative writing tutor for over 15 years. Affiliated with several colleges and universities in England, she also runs her own writing courses in the UK and abroad. She has worked with community groups in therapeutic settings and completed an MA in creative writing for personal development in order to support this. Her writing holidays and retreats take place in stunning locations in Italy and Spain and whilst not teaching or writing she mentors and appraises the work of new writers. Rosanna has had numerous articles and short stories published in UK magazines, and 12 novels of contemporary fiction published in the U.K, Germany, Greece and the U.S.A under a pseudonym.