Blog Blitz: The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba: Chanel Cleeton

by - Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Add to Goodreads


Named one of 2021’s Most Anticipated Historical Novels by Entertainment Weekly, Oprah Magazine, and BuzzFeed

At the end of the nineteenth century, three revolutionary women fight for freedom in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton's captivating new novel inspired by real-life events and the true story of a legendary Cuban woman--Evangelina Cisneros--who changed the course of history.

A feud rages in Gilded Age New York City between newspaper tycoons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. When Grace Harrington lands a job at Hearst's newspaper in 1896, she’s caught in a cutthroat world where one scoop can make or break your career, but it’s a story emerging from Cuba that changes her life.

Unjustly imprisoned in a notorious Havana women's jail, eighteen-year-old Evangelina Cisneros dreams of a Cuba free from Spanish oppression. When Hearst learns of her plight and splashes her image on the front page of his paper, proclaiming her, "The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba," she becomes a rallying cry for American intervention in the battle for Cuban independence.

With the help of Marina Perez, a courier secretly working for the Cuban revolutionaries in Havana, Grace and Hearst's staff attempt to free Evangelina. But when Cuban civilians are forced into reconcentration camps and the explosion of the USS Maine propels the United States and Spain toward war, the three women must risk everything in their fight for freedom.

Though Cleeton’s Cuba stories are all connected to the Perez family in some way, they all (and particularly this one) stand on their own as complete, encapsulated stories. This one takes place during the struggle for Cuban independence from Spain, narrated by 3 women fighting for their beliefs, their freedoms, and the right to be who they wanted to be.

Evangelina Cisneros, dubbed “The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba” by the American press, is stuck in prison and refuses to recant her story in order to obtain freedom. She is young but confident in who she wants to be and after the events that landed her in an infamous prison she is even more determined that Spanish rule be ousted from Cuba.

Marina Perez wants a free Cuba, and though her husband fights on the front lines to free their country, she is stuck in the camps in Havana to protect their daughter. But she can’t sit idly by and takes a role as a courier, shuttling revolutionary messages throughout the city. She gave up her standing in society to marry for love, and isn’t a stranger to working hard.

Grace Harrington wants to write the news, to tell the stories that no one else can tell. Caught up in the newspaper wars in New York, she plays the games between Hearst and Pulitzer, fighting for readership and control of the media lines.

These three women are each remarkable and intriguing in their own way. As their stories weave together, their personalities and differing stations give them different perspectives on the same events. I found myself slowing down as I read not only to make the story last, but to really absorb the details. This conflict told from the perspective of the women involved was an entirely fresh way to read about revolution. This wasn’t so much about the battles and the fighting, but about the struggles to maintain home, family, and identity throughout the stressors of revolution.

I have come to appreciate the way Cleeton uses the historical details to propel her fictional characters’ plights. Though 2 of the three main characters are fictional, they move in the world as if they are real. Evangelina is a historical figure, and the attention to detail in her journey for freedom is obvious. All 3 women make interesting characters to tell this story of revolution, change, and hope for freedom.

“I’m here for a job if you have one. As a reporter. I’ve spent the last few years writing for smaller papers, getting experience where I could.” I gesture to the leather folio in my lap. “I’ve brought samples of my work if you’d like to look at them. They’re not necessarily the kinds of stories I want to cover, but they’re a start.”

“Why do you wish to work here, Miss Harrington?” Pulitzer asks, making no move to take the folio from me.

“Because of the stories you cover, the impact you have. The World has one of the largest circulations in the world.”

Indeed, Mr. Pulitzer has just slashed the World’s price to one cent, saying he prefers power to profits, circulation the measure by which success is currently judged.

“You have the opportunity to reach readers, to bring about change, to help people who desperately need assistance,” I add. “I’ve admired the work you’ve done for years. You’ve long set the tone the rest of the New York newspaper industry follows. You’ve filled a gap in the news, given a voice to people who wouldn’t have otherwise had one. I’ve read the articles you wrote when you were a reporter yourself in St. Louis, and I admire the manner in which you address society’s ills. You’ve revolutionized the newspaper. I want to be part of that.”

“That’s all fine and good, but why should I hire you? What would you bring to the World that someone else wouldn’t?”

“My gender, for one. A woman knows what it’s like to be pushed to society’s margins. There are some who might argue that a woman cannot do this job as effectively as a man. They would be wrong. Nellie Bly has proven that. You did, too, when you hired her.”

“And what do you know of Nellie Bly?”

“You gave her a chance when others wouldn’t.”

“Cockerill gave her a chance,” he replies, referring to his editor.

“With all due respect, Mr. Pulitzer, we both know this is your paper. You saw something in Nellie Bly. And now she’s gone, and you need another reporter who can take on the kinds of stories she did and can go places your male journalists can’t. What she accomplished at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum”—the words “lunatic asylum” fall distastefully from my mouth—“on Blackwell’s Island, going undercover like that, was nothing short of extraordinary. Those women’s lives have been changed because of Miss Bly’s courage and her daring. Those placards out there, the philosophy with which you run your newsroom—I promise to uphold it every single day I work for you.”

Pulitzer leans back in his chair. “You’re plucky like Bly, I’ll give you that.”

“I am.”

Chanel Cleeton is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick Next Year in Havana, When We Left Cuba, The Last Train to Key West, and The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba.

Originally from Florida, Chanel grew up on stories of her family's exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England where she earned a bachelor's degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master's degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law.

You May Also Like