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Series: The Cuba Saga #4
Also in this series: Next Year in Havana, When We Left Cuba, The Last Train to Key West
Published by Berkley Books on May 4, 2021
Genres: Women's Fiction, Historical
Review Copy Provided By: Berkley
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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.
I was provided a review copy; this did not influence my opinion of the book.
❛The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba❜ is a provocative mixture of passion, intrigue, and controversy.
❝Viva Cuba Libre,❞ I whisper to him, the cry for a free Cuba forever in my heart. ❝Viva Cuba Libre,❞ he echoes fiercely.
There have been times in my life as a book reviewer where I don’t feel worthy reviewing a book, where I felt my words weren’t eloquent enough to adequately and thoroughly describe the story, the emotions I experienced, and the enjoyment I felt for the book I just read. And never before has this feeling of inadequacy been more true than after having read ❛The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba❜.
❛The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba❜ is realist fiction. It is a retelling of the real-life Evangelina Cisneros, who was proclaimed The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba in the late 1890’s and who became the face for the Cuban Revolution from Spanish control. Her story was largely exaggerated by US newspapers, as the two biggest, The New York Journal and The New York World, fought for control of the Newspaper market. William Randolph Hearst vs. Joseph Pulitzer. A fight that brought about yellow journalism with the hopes of appealing to the mass market during the Gilded Age, a time of economic boom for the rich, and unhealthy and dangerous working conditions for the poor.
❝I am surrounded by forgotten women.❞
This story could have easily been only about Evangelina, and it would have still been beautiful. But Chanel Cleeton didn’t give us easy. Instead, she mingled Evangelina’s story with two other women, Grace Harrington and Marina Perez. All three were strong-willed and courageous women who were full of righteous indignation over what was happening in Cuba. They used their anger to fuel themselves into action.
❝I might have been born a lady, but we are made in times of war.❞
Cleeton has set the bar with this series. She has cemented her position among the best, and I will drop any and everything to read what she writes.
A gripping tale of love, loss, and the spirit to fight for what you believe, ❛The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba❜ was a powerful, all-consuming read. Phenomenal!
“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.”