Chanel Cleeton’s past few years have been phenomenal. The first time she was recognised among the book community was through Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club who suggested Cleeton’s first historical fiction ‘When we left Cuba‘. Cleeton takes us on a revolutionary journey through the rich history of the Perez family who face the Cuban Revolution. The plot links to the current day heroine, Marisol (Grandaughter), and then back in time to Beatriz who both experience heartbreak, love and adventure in Cuba. They are not only learning about the family secrets… They also learn a thing or two about themselves. This is a huge representation of Cleeton’s Cuban American heritage. She learned a thing or two of her own through writing the tales of her new found heronines. Cherishing the laughter and love of her family’s memories of the Cuba they remember forever.
BookPub are taking you to an interview between blogger Vilma Iris Gonzalez (on behalf of the Books Connect Us podcast – Penguin Random House) who discuss the release of The Last Train To Key West with Chanel Cleeton:
The Last Train To Key West is about three heronies who cross paths, all seeking to find a sense of belonging to the world. The central plot is based on the Labour Day Hurricane in 1935. The storm was so strong it destructed all structures between Tavernier and Marathon. Cleeton discovered there were WW1 vetrans building the railroad which took passengers from New York to Florida, known as the Key West Extention whilst the storm took place. “There were no formal warnings back then as the storms just seemed to happen without any warnings at all” Cleeton told Vilma. “Some WW1 vetrans were building the Key West and were forgotten to be told about the evacuations that were happening at the time. There wasn’t such thing as storm warnings like we get now on our Iphones or news broadcasts to keep us updated so the people of Florida had to escape quickly. I wantes readers to remember those alongside the other themes in the book”. Cleeton said that she will also be addressing themes of of the criminal industry, marraiges (arranged and abusive), revolution and many more.
The book will be slightly different to the last two we have read. “It’s a little departure from the first two books I wrote” Cleeton said. We will still see one member of the Perez family come into the story as she was forced into an arranged marraige by her parents. She will always be looked after by the elite’s of Cuba (as Beatriz’s mother exaplained in When We Left Cuba) but finds out there’s more to life than being a housewife. “There will be three heronies involved in this book. The first is a native of Key West who is trapped in an abusive marraige, looking for a way out. She is a waitress and meets the second heronie, a Perez sister, at her work with the third heroine. The second as we know was set into an arranged marraige which will cause her to realise she wants somethign different in life. The third heronie is from New York and is searching for love” Cleeton explains. “I create a more suspense filling plot, set over like a weekend during the hurricane”.
Cleeton expressed her inspiration came from her Father, Grandfather and Grandmother who had moved to the US in 1960s, all refugees. She was born in the US as a Cuban American. She cherishes the stories her family had remised to her as a child and wants to preserve the culture to pass down to her family. Her Grandmother had died before Next Year in Havana was written which inspired her to investigate the history, culture and past of Cuba and it’s history.
Next Year In Havana was influenced by the stories her father had told her and again the history of Cuba. We see that the US, Soviet and Cuba are all included in the plot through the John F Kennedy presidency through to the end of the Cuban Revolution. The part where they went back to Cuba to dig up the family belongings in the shed was based on true events with her father as they had to leave them behind or they got confisgated. She had become proud to have a Cuban heritage and the harship her family had gone through. “There are alot of gaps in people’s perception when understanding a different culture’s heritage unless you have a personal connection to the struggles otherwise it is hard to relate to it. I have been questioned about the revolution and how it was a good thing, which it is, but it hadn’t happened too long ago and it happened at such a historical part in Cuban and American history. It’s not my primary reasons for writing this book but it is important to remember the parts of history that fill in the gaps like the vetrans who were forgotten” Cleeton explained.
She continues to talk with Vilma about being a multilingual person living in the US. She claims to speak spanish which was her mother tongue before she even knew how to speak English. “Some people talk to me in book tours and speak Spanish. I get nervous because you conciously think if you use the right words or say it in the right accent. I try to use both English and Spanish at home because I want to cherish both sides of my background” Cleeton and Vilma relate in a conversation. “It has given me so much confidence since being recognised by Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club because I am able to talk about Cuban History as it has raised so much awareness through my books. People are intregiued by the history and more people are coming forwards with their stories about taking refuge, some back in the 60s too. It makes you admire something you have or have learned about” she concludes.
During the Lockdown, Chanel Cleeton has been struggling with the ups and downs of staying at home like most of us. She said she enjoys One Day At A Time on telelvision but always tries to find something her husband likes to watch too. She had mentioned it can be quite hard to get into the zone of reading some days, especially on horrible days. However, she encouraged us to try Beach Read, You Had Me At Hola and The Cubans (a non-fiction book about the history of Cuba).
The Last Train To Key West is avaliable 16.06.2020