The world has expectations of you, of how you are to shoulder your burdens with grace, of the role you play, and as soon as you don’t live up to those expectations, it’s easier for others to cast you aside rather than change how they view the world. We are defined by what we do for others, by our relationships, by what we have to offer.
This book is fitting, seeing as we were just under the threat of a tropical storm/hurricane. I read Cleeton’s previous novels, Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba last year. I really enjoy her books because they are familiar. The culture, the settings - it all feels like I’m reading about my own family or home state. The Last Train to Key West was no different. While the Keys are very different from neighboring Miami, I’ve been there enough times to know what the landscape is like. Reading about it before it was fully developed, in post-Depression America was really interesting. One of the reasons I love historical fiction is that I always learn something new from historical novels. Until I read this book, I had no idea that veterans were sent to camps in the Keys when they returned from World War I (and I would bet that a lot of people out there didn't know that, either). The Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was a historic storm - one of only four category 5 storms to ever hit the United States. It is, to date, the third most intense Atlantic hurricane on record and is tied for first with Hurricane Dorian as the strongest landfalling hurricane.
The story centers around three women who cross paths in Key West over Labor Day weekend in 1935, and find themselves faced with a bevy of problems as a hurricane barrels towards the Florida Keys. Helen is a Key West native who feels trapped in her current situation - pregnant and with an abusive husband. Mirta is a young woman from Cuba whose family's status changed after the Cuban Revolution of 1933. She has been married in an arranged marriage and is trying to find her footing with her new husband. Elizabeth is a young woman whose family has been heavily affected by the Great Depression. Her trip to Key West is a last ditch effort to save her family. The women's paths all cross unexpectedly, and the way they withstand all the storms in their lives is a testament to the resilience of women everywhere - especially in that time period, when so much of what a woman did was for duty and what was expected of her.
The novel’s climax is the landfall of this intense hurricane, and having been through a couple of them myself, I could feel all the emotions that the characters were experiencing. While some of the details don’t seem plausible, when you’ve actually been through a hurricane, they very much are. There’s romance, history, and suspense tied in, and the book reads easily. I really enjoyed it and it was an easy read. I probably wouldn't read it if a hurricane is headed toward us, but this week would probably be a good time to check it out!
Also, several of you asked me if it was part of her other two books, and while it can be read as a standalone book, it does tie back to Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba. This is from Cleeton's website:
How is The Last Train to Key West related to your first two books?
The Last Train to Key West is set in 1935, over two decades before the events in Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba. It can be read as a standalone, so if you haven’t picked up my first two books, it’s a great place to jump in. The novel features three heroines with two recognizable last names. One of the heroines is related to Nick Preston from When We Left Cuba and another one of the heroines is a Perez and is Beatriz and Elisa’s aunt (their father’s sister). I’m loving writing about the Perez family and for my next few books we’ll go back in history a bit and meet some of the Perez ancestors.
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