Last Dance in Havana is part of the #QuercusSummer campaign, in which bloggers are challenged to read and review one Quercus summer title each month between June-August, and it couldn't have been kicked off with a read that evokes more sunshine and summery feelings than Last Dance in Havana by Rossanna Ley.
It's 1958 when Elisa meets Duardo. A young, impressionable teenager she's instantly taken by his charm and when he goes off to fight with the rebels she waits for him at home. But when news arrives that he has died she is forced to leave Cuba when her family moves to faraway Bristol in England in the hopes of finding a better life. Decades later she has not forgotten Duardo but when she meets a young girl, Grace, who has just lost her mother she feels protective of the child and becomes a mother figure to her. And when the child's father eventually asks Elisa to marry him, it seems a logical next step for the family to take.
Rosanna Ley's Bay of Secrets is one of the most haunting and memorable novels I've ever had the pleasure to read, and I was expecting a similarly set-up story doused in history, research and shocking revelations but that wasn't the case. Last Dance in Havana is more gentle and while it does contain flashbacks and cross-generational storylines, it felt a lot more contemporary and like the ultimate beach read, rather than an in-depth historical fiction read that requires a lot of concentration. This is not a good thing or a bad thing per se, but it does mean that my expectations didn't align with this novel and it took me a little longer to find myself being fully immersed into it.
Where this novel excelled was in its incredible sense of place, and the way it transported the reader to the heat of Cuba and the sensuous first encounter between Elisa and Duardo as they dance the Rumba together. At first we only see snippets of this place through flashbacks as the majority of the novel takes place in present time Bristol, but the further the story developed, the more tangible and vibrant the Cuban colours and sounds woven through the pages became. And even when Elisa was in Bristol there was always a hint of that Cuban atmosphere in the chapters as she never became completely English in her ways.
While half of the novel was focused on a now adult Grace and her strenuous relationships with both her father and her husband, to me it was Elisa's story in past and present that really stuck with me. Despite the hardships she endured in life, she never gave up and she continued to be a kind and caring person to those around her – even when perhaps they were not deserving of it. Her strength and wisdom were an inspiration and made it impossible not to fall in love with her as a character and hope that she would find the love she deserves in the end.
Last Dance in Havana evokes the feeling of romantic escapades and sultry summer days, but it's also an insight in marriage, loss and forgiveness. All these different elements balance the story and create a compelling novel that is perfect to dive into come rain or shine.
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Last Dance in Havana is published by Quercus and you can buy the novel from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
Connect with the authorWebsite: www.rosannaley.com