Book review: Last Dance in Havanna by Rosanna Ley

29 May

havanaCuba, 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 shoulderto 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 Cuban born magician but even he can’t make Grace’s problems disappear. Is the passion Grace feels for Theo enough to risk her family’s happiness?

Last Dance in Havana is Rosanna Ley’s fifth novel and is another captivating read. Rosanna always includes an exotic location in her novels and this book set in Cuba and Bristol is my favourite of Rosanna’s books to date. I loved the way Rosanna captured the sights and sounds of Cuba, particularly the food and dances and I really did fell like I was there with the characters as I read. I also enjoyed the Bristol setting and hadn’t realised the links between the two places. It was nice to read about a different English city outside of London.

The story has a number of threads that weave together to create a novel that I found hard to put down. From a beautiful described prologue that describes the passion of a Cuban dance in wonderful detail, the story moves back and forth between Cuba and England, past and present to construct a complex story of love, passion and heartache.

Beginning in Cuba in 1957 we meet Elisa who is only sixteen at the time. A passionate encounter with the fiery Duardo sets her on course to fall in love deeply. As the story jumps to Bristol in 2012 we find Elisa happily settled in England and immediately the questions begin to form. How did Elisa come to be so far from home? What happened to her and Duardo?

A further set of mysteries and questions develop when we meet Grace. Grace lives in Bristol and is good friends with Elisa. There relationship is a complex one as is Grace’s relationship with her father, against the background of her Mum’s untimely death. We immediately question what happened to Grace’s Mum and why is her relationship with her father so difficult.

The links between the characters are strong and I felt like the main characters in Bristol were a community. Elisa runs a Spanish group and Grace often attends. There’s a further link to Cuba with magician Theo who was born in the country. Theo is best friends with Grace and her husband Robbie and this adds a further dimension of complication to the plot as Grace and Theo’s bond strengthens against a backdrop of tension in Grace and Robbie’s relationship.

This novel explores themes of family, identity, love and ‘home’ beautifully and I was swept along by a plot that I couldn’t predict. I enjoyed Rosanna’s examination of the pressure Grace feels to start a family and of the notion of true and enduring love. Elisa and Duardo’s story made my heart ache and Grace’s storyline with her father was particularly poignant.

Last Dance in Havana is a great read for any time of the year but I’d particularly recommend it as a summer read to transport you to another time and place and keep you gripped with a strong plot and interesting and complex characters.

4/5

Last Dance in Havana is out now in paperback and ebook formats from Quercus.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Find out more about Rosanna Ley and her writing at: http://www.rosannaley.com/

 

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