By: Chanel Cleeton
My Goodreads Review: 4.5/5 Stars
“Our lives are not defined by one thing; we are more than the events that happen to us.”
The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton follows the lives of three women: Grace, Evangelina and Marina, during the Cuban War of Independence from Spain in the late 1800s. Grace is an American trying to become a journalist in a society where women working in newspapers is frowned upon. Marina is a poor farmer’s wife displaced by the war and sent to a reconcentration camp in Havana. She decides to help in the war effort by sending messages for the revolutionaries. Evangelina, labelled as The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba, is from a middle-class family in Cuba that fights for independence, eventually imprisoned in one of the most notorious prisons in Cuba. These women’s stories connect throughout the book.
I really loved the three main characters of this story. They portrayed strong, independent and intelligent women. Cleeton uses each character to show the multiple perspectives of this war. Evangelina was based on a real person, which adds a layer of intrigue and excitement to her story, but Marina is the inspiring character that shows her heroism and patriotism with every new chapter. As well, I really liked Grace’s character. She had a lot of spunk, excitement, ambition; her independence would have been very revolutionary during this time in American society. I know Grace is a fictional character but, I am sure that there were women just like her fighting for equality, and she does a great job representing them.
I learned so much about Spanish colonialism in the book, something I know little about. Cuba fought multiple wars against their Spanish occupiers; these wars lasted for many years and resulted in many deaths. This book focuses on the final battle that won the Cubans their independence. The story shows the deep divide between wealthy and poor Cubans, and you can’t help but feel subtle hints to what the future holds for Cuba. Overall, I learned so much about this little island, Spanish colonialism and America in the late 1800s.
This book featured so many real people, which was terrific. The newspaper wars that Cleeton talks about between Joseph Pulitzer, who created the New York World newspaper, and William Randolf Hurst representing the New York Journal, were so interesting. Then to find out later that a lot of what Cleeton wrote about these two men was based on facts made the whole book that much more exciting. It was like you were getting a sneak peek into history, and I loved it!
I didn’t give this book five stars because although I loved most of the story and the characters, I sometimes felt the story was a bit too cheesy, especially near the end. Even though I liked the way the characters’ stories ended, I did find myself eye-rolling at some parts. However, it’s nice sometimes when a historical fiction book doesn’t end in tears.
Overall, this was a captivating story about a time in history I think few people know about. Cleeton takes the Cuban War of Independence and creates exciting storylines and characters to add to the intrigue of this time. I also love that this story was centered around women’s perspectives. Truly a great read!
“There are those who are afraid that the change we seek will leave them pushed to the fringes of a society they have mercilessly dominated for so long.”
Other books by Chanel Cleeton:
*When We Left Cuba (Goodreads Review: 4/5 Stars)
*The Last Train to Key West (Goodreads Review: 4.1/5 Stars)
*Next Year in Havana (Goodreads Review: 3.9/5 Stars)
Have You read any of Chanel Cleetons books? Which one would you read next?