Sunday, 26 June 2016

Review - Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley

Last Dance in Havana is the fifth book written by Rosanna Ley and the first book of hers that I’ve ever read. It was also the first book that I read as part of the Quercus Summer Reading Book Club, which is an initiative launched by the publishers - Quercus - to tie in with their library promotion, Pick the Perfect Poolside Read. It’s such a fabulous idea, one that is giving thousands of readers the chance to travel the world through fiction and discover new authors that they may not have heard of before in the process. I was incredibly excited to get started with Last Dance in Havana, which was brilliant from beginning to end.

When the book first opens we meet Elisa as a teenager in 1957 who met and fell in love with Duardo in Havana, Cuba, and spent many days together exploring their country and many nights dancing. Duardo is Elisa’s one true love but with Duardo adamant that he is going to fight and be a part of the Cuban revolution, their relationship does not last long and Elisa soon finds herself living in England. We then jump to 2012 where Elisa, although she still spends much of her time thinking about her life with Duardo and what might or could have been, is married and has a step-daughter called Grace. Grace lost her mother at a young age, has a strained relationship with her father and has strong feelings for a man who is not her husband. Both Elisa and Grace need to figure out what they want from life and whether they can have the life they both want in England or not. 

With the novel being told from the perspectives of both Elisa and Grace, the reader really gets the opportunity to get to know each of them as individuals and delve into their pasts, finding out exactly what led them to be where they are today. They are both very memorable characters, but it has to be said that Elisa was definitely my favourite of the two. Elisa was a woman who put the needs of others before her own and was a character who I desperately wanted to find the happiness in life that she so clearly deserved from the moment I first met her. Although I also hoped that Grace would discover what made her truly happy too after everything she had been through I couldn’t help but question some of the decisions she was making. 

Rosanna Ley has done a fantastic job with Last Dance in Havana, having created a beautifully-written novel that is detailed and descriptive from the start. It deals with a few difficult issues in a very tactful manner and everything about Rosanna’s writing throughout the duration of the book was powerful and emotive. What is also very clear to see is that Rosanna has really done her research with this book and has spent a great deal of her time researching and absorbing everything she possibly could about Cuba’s history and culture. The country really came to life in a way I was not expecting it to. Having studied Spanish at university, I really loved the Spanish words that were thrown in frequently throughout the novel - they really kept me on my toes and I learned a few new words in the process!

As well as being a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience, Last Dance in Havana also turned out to be a fantastic learning experience about Cuba, a place that I could previously only have imagined. You know you’ve read a good book when you find yourself not wanting it to end and are left with an overwhelming desire to visit the place which you have read about and that’s exactly what this novel does. I’m not quite sure why I’ve never picked up anything written by Rosanna Ley before but she’s definitely an author whose books I’ll be looking out for in the future.