October 26, 2021

Reading Cuba: Two Reviews by Author Teresa LaBella

Perhaps it’s because I’m not living in the country where I was born. Or maybe it’s the disturbing nonfiction research into other conquerors that destroyed lives in Latin and South America that shapes the story of the novel I’m currently writing. But I’ve recently been drawn to historical fiction set in countries near and south of the equator that reveal the plight of women who refuse to be victims.  Strong women whose perseverance overcomes adversity and the injustice that ripped them from their home and native lands and robbed them of those they love. 

When We Left Cuba dropped me back to a place in history that I witnessed as a child confused by the fear and grieving of grownups in my seven-year-old world. Chanel Cleeton’s novel frames fiction in the very real story surrounding the fall of the tyrant Batista, the rise of Castro, the failure to depose him at the Bay of Pigs, the missile crisis that brought Cold War enemies to the brink of nuclear war, and the assassination of President Kennedy. But the perspective of Cuban refugee Beatriz Perez contrasts with the history taught in American classrooms and the news reports I remember televised  on a flickering black and white screen in my Irish Catholic grandmother’s living room.

Beatriz and her family lose the life they’ve known overnight. Batista abandons Cuba. Castro claims everything. Beatriz vows to avenge her twin brother’s death and return to her homeland from Florida exile. This quest stokes her independent fire within. It singes, strains and shapes every decision and relationship in her life, from her involvement with the CIA, estrangement from her parents and sisters, a dangerous alliance with her brother’s best friend, and an affair with a U.S. senator she loves but can never truly hold.

The past plays out in first person eloquence in words written by the author from the heart and soul of Beatriz. I thought my love for Cuba would be the hardest thing for me to reconcile, but in truth, it’s the anger that’s the hardest to dispense of. Love ebbs and flows, a low-level hum in the background, but anger sinks its claws in you and refuses to let go.

Present day reflections the day Castro dies weave subtle clues to a conclusion not revealed until the last page of a book I didn’t want to end.

I thought my love for Cuba would be the hardest thing for me to reconcile, but in truth, it’s the anger that’s the hardest to dispense of. Love ebbs and flows, a low-level hum in the background, but anger sinks its claws in you and refuses to let go.”

From When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

Threads of sorrow and loss weave and bind the converging histories of women who survive the inhumanity of hard labor and war, the suffering of separation and deportation, and the pain of keeping secrets from and about family in author Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt.

The layers of time and place in this multi-generational tale span from Cuba in war torn 1866, the rise of Castro in 1959, and into the 21st century. Present day realities are told in the author’s matter-of-fact-in-fiction voice from the peripheral outside-looking-in romanticism by Americans and other foreigners to the acceptance of poverty, history, and the culture of ‘what is’ by the island nation’s natives. Modern day Miami links the Cuban family with the story of Gloria and Ana, mother and daughter illegals from El Salvador. They long to live where hope is an option and a future is possible.

Chapters dodge in and out of chronological order as well as from first to third person and back again point of view. But the writing is so seamless and the plot so compelling that the story flowed without flaw.

When We Left Cuba and Of Women and Salt rank among those five-star novels that authors envy and readers will remember.


Author Teresa LaBella grew up in Davenport, Iowa. The people she interviewed as a journalist and met in her work in the arts and with nonprofit organizations colored her future fiction writing canvas and sharpened her love for telling a good story.  Her first contemporary romance novel Reservations published in 2013. Two more novels, a novella and four short stories completed the New Life in Love McKenna family saga series. Her first novel in The UnMatchables romantic suspense series Danger Noted published in October 2020. The author’s current work in progress, Danger Revealed, presents the second case for Chicago-based private investigators Eddie Emerson and Kelly Gillespie to solve. The political thriller Capital Strings, set in the capital city of Ottawa in her now home country Canada, published in April of this year.

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