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Chanel Cleeton writes historical fiction novel. Graphic: Berkley.
Chanel Cleeton's latest historical fiction novel. Graphic: Berkley.

Chanel Cleeton honors her Cuban identity through her novels

The author of bestellers 'Next Year in Havana' and 'When We Left Cuba' will publish a new novel set in Barcelona in May.

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In the summer of 2016, Chanel Cleeton’s father told her a family story — of the night before her father and grandparents left Cuba in 1967, when the family met under the cover of darkness and buried their most valuable possessions in the backyard of their home since they couldn’t take them with them in exile. 

“Even though I grew up on her family’s stories of Cuba, this story was one that hadn’t been shared with her before, and as a writer, I was gripped with the question: If you were forced to flee the only home you’d ever known and you didn’t know when you would be able to go back, what would you choose to save for when you could return?” writes the author on her website. 

From that question, Cleeton wrote Next Year in Havana, which became a New York Times Bestseller in 2018. The novel tells the adventures of the Perez sisters, a fictional story inspired by the author’s efforts to explore her Cuban identity and also to learn more about her family’s history from New York, where she lives now.

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Originally from Florida, Chanel grew up on stories of her family's exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England, where she earned a bachelor's degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master's degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. 

In Next Year in Havana, the author follows Elisa Perez’s story, while on her second book,  When We Left Cuba (2019)  is Beatriz Perez’s story. The series follow with The Last Train to Key West (2020) and The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba (2021), where she tells the story of Evangelina Cisneros, a journalist and revolutionary fighting for her country.  

Cleeton’s upcoming novel Our Last Days in Barcelona, to be published on May 24, is set in Barcelona in 1936.  The author goes back to Alicia Perez, the sister’s mother, who arrives in Barcelona after a difficult voyage from Cuba, her marriage in jeopardy and her young daughter Isabel in tow. Violence brews in Spain, the country on the brink of civil war, the rise of fascism threatening the world. When Cubans journey to Spain to join the International Brigades, Alicia’s past comes back to haunt her as she is unexpectedly reunited with the man who once held her heart.

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