Jee reviews ‘Find Me in Havana’ by Serena Burdick @parkrowbooks #FindMeInHavana #bookreview #EstelitaRodriguez #motherdaughterrelationship #HistoricalFiction #NetGalley #basedontruestory #eARC

Title/Author: Find Me In Havana by Serena Burdick

Publisher: Park Row

Pages: 265

In a nutshell (Publisher):

From the bestselling author of THE GIRLS WITH NO NAMES, a new historical novel based on the dazzling story of one of Hollywood’s most celebrated Hispanic actresses and her daughter’s search for closure.

“Told in a series of letters, FIND ME IN HAVANA is a beautiful and heart-wrenching story of mothers and daughters, and the American Dream that comes with the biggest price of all. I couldn’t put it down!” — Heather Webb, USA Today bestselling author

Cuba, 1936: When Estelita Rodriguez sings in a hazy Havana nightclub for the very first time, she is nine years old. From then on, that spotlight of adoration—from Havana to New York’s Copacabana and then Hollywood—becomes the one true accomplishment no one can take from her. Not the 1933 Cuban Revolution that drove her family into poverty. Not the revolving door of husbands or the fickle world of film.

Thirty years later, her young adult daughter, Nina, is blindsided by her mother’s mysterious death. Seeking answers, the grieving Nina navigates the troubling, opulent memories of their life together and discovers how much Estelita sacrificed to live the American dream on her own terms.

Based on true events and exclusive interviews with Nina Lopez, Estelita’s daughter, Find Me in Havana weaves two unforgettable voices into one extraordinary story that explores the unbreakable bond between mother and child, and the ever-changing landscape of self-discovery.

My thoughts:

Find Me in Havana is a fictionalized story about the life of a Cuban actress in the 50’s, Estelita Rodriguez, based on true events and interviews with Nina Lopez, Estelita’s daughter. This was such an immersive read, which not only delved into the life of an actress who struggled with her career, but also her role as a daughter and mother, and her struggles to keep her marriage(s) together.

The novel alternated between 2 narratorsEstelita and her daughter, Nina. Since young, Estelita had dreamt of one day living and performing in the US. Her dream came true when, at 15, she came to the US with her mother, to perform in Copacabana as a headlining singer where she fell in love and married Chu Chu. She moved to acting as a career with her mother, whom Nina called Grandmother Maria, helped manage her career, until she was old enough to manage her own. Her success led her to New York and Hollywood, where she worked hard, determined to make a name for herself.

Overall, a touching and an immersive story. What stood out to me the most, was the mother daughter relationships – between Estelita and Nina (which to me was the heart of the story) and Estelita and her mother.

Estelita who was trying to make her mark in the entertainment industry, was great at her job and with the people she worked with, but struggled with the relationship with her daughter Nina. Whenever she had to leave Nina, she’d promise Nina that she’d make up for lost time, but failed to do so, every time, leaving Nina feeling abandoned, angry and frustrated. It also didn’t help that Estelita left Nina under the care of Grandmother Maria, whom Nina didn’t particularly like; she felt that all of Estelita’s acts of love and care came from Grandmother Maria’s instructions, and not something that Estelita did out of her love for her. She wrote to her mother, ‘I hate that you don’t know how to protect me without her.’

However, without Grandmother Maria, Estelita wouldn’t be who she dreamed to be – a star, to be adored and wanted. She admitted to Nina in her letter, ‘And I do love it, the attention, the allure, how men look at me, how I know exactly what to do to direct their eyes where I want them to go. All eyes on me. I need that.’ Without Grandmother Maria too, Nina wouldn’t have anyone to turn to for any help nor support, because there wasn’t anybody else she could trust. Grandmother Maria helped shape Estelita’s career and future; Estelita wouldn’t do anything without first consulting her mother. Estelita’s life, and Nina’s too, I believe, was saved many times because of Grandmother Maria. If only Estelita had shown the same love towards her own daughter, Nina’s life would have probably turned out very differently.

One of my favorite parts of the novel, but also the most heartbreaking, was when Nina and Estelita had to go to Cuba, after Estelita’s father and two brothers-in-law were taken by Fidel Castro’s men for their support of Batista. It was there that Nina got to meet her aunts and cousins, and one of whom she became really close to – Josepha. They both formed a very tight bond almost right from the start. Nina had never felt happier, and I was too. In fact, it was the most (and only) uplifting part of the novel. They played, exchanged stories and shared secrets. It was the first time Nina felt so happy, to have finally found a friend and someone she could trust. But it ended almost quickly. What happened to their friendship really broke my heart.

Besides the storytelling, I also loved the author’s writing, I had many passages highlighted: Here are two of them:

‘I fold my grief into a tight square and shove it into the pit of my stomach…’

Loved that! Just thinking how she made her character handle grief at that point of time, and expressed it in words…just amazing!

‘This early hour is my favorite time of the day. The night requires sleep, the day action, but the crack of time separating the two requires absolutely nothing. It is a pause and an inhale, the breath between movement and stillness.’

How can one not fall in love with that? The choice of words, the way they interacted with each other, the craft. So zen-ish and ‘yoga’! Absolutely beautiful, don’t you think?

Although the story certainly didn’t read like it was told in series of letters (it felt more like diary entries), I still found the whole novel captivating, heart-wrenching and beautifully written. Find Me in Havana was not only about the life of Hispanic actress who believed in living her dreams, but also a story on love and family, strength and resilience. I just feel so sad for Nina, for not being able to feel connected to her mother. Nina did find joy at the end, but to me, it still felt like there’d always be an ’emptiness’ that will always be there, a hole that could never be filled.

Because it was based on a true story, blurring fact from fiction, it did take away some of my ‘enjoyment’ of reading – how much of it were true? Made-up? Nevertheless, it was still a good read, although I did enjoy ‘The Girls with No Names’ a little more, which I reviewed here.

If you were a fan of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, you might enjoy this too. But be warned, there were endless heartbreaks throughout.

Thank you NetGalley and Harlequin for the invitation to read this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.

Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Please share with me your thoughts!

10 Comments Add yours

  1. nsfordwriter says:

    This sounds really interesting, Jee. I hadn’t heard of the actress before – had you? I like it when books are based on true stories, as the characters and details seem more real.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Same here I haven’t heard of her until now! Yep I like books that are based on true stories too 🙂 TQ for reading, NS! 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Rae Longest says:

    Fantabulous review! You rock, girl!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      TQ so much Rae!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. stargazer says:

    I think, people sometimes have to compromise, when pursuing their dreams, but it is of course sad, if it’s on account of their children. Poor Nina. Cuba is such an interesting place with an interesting history as well. I’ve read a few novels taking place there (incl. Our Man in Havana) but I wouldn’t mind exploring the Cuban history and setting further. Agree, when the author mixes facts and fiction you can’t help wondering which parts are true. But I still think an author should have full freedom to make up his / her own story, as long as it is clear that it’s fiction. Great review as usual, Jee!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Yup, I agree. The hardest part about reading this for me was because there was so little to know about the actress and her daughter, so being the inquisitive me, finding out the true/fiction part deterred me from truly ‘enjoying’ the story, as opposed to reading Rodham 🙂 Thank you for reading, my friend! xoxo

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This is a lovely review, Jee! I read this author’s last book and really enjoyed it so I’ve been intrigued by this one. I’m drawn to emotional stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Jennifer! I hope you’ll enjoy this too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love how you always pick up the stories with very intimate, strong relationships, exploring historically fascinating eras too! Great review, Jee! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, my friend! 🙏🏼💕 although I’m still in the hunt for one dang good read ahaha I had better luck in the beginning of 2020! 😅

      Liked by 2 people

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