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"When We Left Cuba" Book Discussion and Mimosa Cupcakes Recipe

I wish to inspire readers, teachers, and book clubs to bake along with their reading and promote discussion about the books we've enjoyed.

when-we-left-cuba-book-discussion-and-recipe

Beatriz Perez is determined to set the world on fire to regain all she’s lost—she is clever, curvy, and more powerful than she realizes, with an insatiable ambition driving her, yet vulnerable when the right equally clever and wounded man comes along, who also lives “with ghosts in his eyes.”

Her mother desires her to be a simple debutante and marry a rich man while the girls’ father seeks to rebuild his sugar fortune, lost in Cuba. But for Beatriz, no matter how many men, no matter which men propose, she refuses to be confined the background of a man’s life—cooking, attending social parties,and sitting around—useless. Not with a dead twin brother to avenge. So she begins aiding her old family friend Eduardo in his secret missions, and is eventually put in contact with a head at the CIA, Mr. Dwyer. But timing couldn't be worse, as she also just met the one man who might make her give it all up, a powerful senator named Nick Preston who’s been to war and seen the havoc it wreaks, who still lives with the ghosts of his memories left on battlefields. Nick is one of perhaps only two men still alive who truly understand Beatriz and the passion that drives her, above all, her need to kill Fidel Castro. He too is a man with drive, who seeks to one day become President, like his good friend Jack Kennedy.

With powerful imagery and a tangible, understandable need for vengeance and retribution as a result of the poignant losses she and her family have suffered, the voice of Beatriz Perez is fascinating and compelling. When We Left Cuba is about what it means to be a woman in the 1960s, craving power and usefulness, yet torn by the desire for love, but above all, what it means to be a Cuban etching a place in America, and above all, resilient.

Perfect for fans of

  • Historical fiction
  • Cuban history
  • Cuban fiction
  • High society and scandals
  • Political fiction
  • JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis
  • CIA fiction
  • Romantic fiction

Discussion Questions

  1. What were some of the reasons Beatriz found it so difficult to fit into Palm Beach society? How did she make herself a further outcast on her own? Why didn’t she ever seek to make any friends?
  2. How did Beatriz and Nick both have survivor’s guilt? Is this perhaps partly what drove each of them down their career paths?
  3. Under the agrarian reform law in Cuba in 1959, the government nationalized estates and companies, restricting large-scale landholding, and prohibiting foreign ownership. How did this affect the Perez family and their sugar plantations? How did it affect Cuba’s relationship with the US? Who seized power of all of that wealth and property then?
  4. All of our photographs are back in Havana
  5. One of Beatriz’s favorite games to play was “What will you do when you go back to Cuba?” How did Eduardo’s answer about a wife and family one day surprise her? Was this a clue into some of his later actions?
  6. The sight of Harlem’s fervor and excitement toward Castro’s visit disgusted Beatriz. How did people not see the irony that in America, “they are free, are able to protest against their government. They celebrate the man who has taken such liberties from us”?
  7. How, for Beatriz, can it be “both a blessing and a curse being surrounded by family”?
  8. Nick warned Beatriz that “we’re all for sale...it’s just a matter of finding the right price.” What was her price? What was his?
  9. Was Nick right that no one in the CIA cared about Cuba, “not really. They care about America’s position in the world”? Why did that make Nick more concerned for Beatriz’s safety, even more than she did for herself? Was she just as guilty of using the CIA as they were of using her?
  10. Why did Beatriz want “to shout at those pampered students whose notions of war came from something they read in a book...the haunted eyes of thousands of children who have crossed the ocean on their own...waiting for the revolution to end”? About whom was she speaking? What truths about war and even how communism actually plays out, had she learned from practical experience, not a textbook?
  11. Beatriz says about Eduardo, “In another life, we would have been magnificent together.” In what ways did they understand each other that she and Nick did not? How could that have played out? Why didn’t it?
  12. What warning did Nick Preston’s fiancee, Katherine Davies, give Beatriz in a women’s restroom? Were you shocked? What other ways could that have played out, and why do you think it didn’t?
  13. Beatriz calls hope “a beautiful lie”? What things did she put her hope in that let her down? Are there other things that are safer to hope in, or to hope for? She also said “the promise of hope is everything” but is that the problem—is hope a promise? Do our disappointments come from believing it is?
  14. Was Beatriz “a widow to a country that has only ever existed in [her] dreams”? How?
  15. To Beatriz, being Nick’s mistress or wife was no different, because she didn’t believe he saw her as an equal. Did he? Was she just determined to “set the world on fire” where he wanted to create change from the inside?
  16. Beatriz’s mother does not understand her, or anyone else who is different from her. She “does not adjust well to change, cannot reconcile what Cuba has become with her world of parties and shopping.” How are each of them a product of their circumstances and upbringing? Why do they butt heads so hard?

The Recipe

On the opening page, Beatriz is gifted a bottle of champagne to celebrate Fidel’s death in November 2016. The last chapter of the book has another bottle being opened to celebrate a birthday, family, and the return of an old friend.

Nick Preston’s cologne smelled of sandalwood and orange.

Because of the power of these moments and characters in the book, I combined orange and champagne into:

Mimosa Orange Champagne Cupcakes with Orange Frosting

Mimosa Orange Champagne Cupcakes with Orange Frosting

when-we-left-cuba-book-discussion-and-recipe

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large orange, zested
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 egg whites (from 2 large eggs), at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup champagne or sparkling white wine

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 large orange, zested
  • 3 tbsp fresh orange juice
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 drops yellow food coloring, optional
  • 2 drops red food coloring, optional

Orange Champagne Cupcakes with Orange Frosting

when-we-left-cuba-book-discussion-and-recipe

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. In a stand mixer on medium speed, beat one softened stick of butter with the granulated sugar and zest of one orange until smooth, about 2 minutes. Drop the speed to low, add the orange juice, then slowly add half of the dry ingredients to the bowl, mix, then add the eggs, one at a time. Add the rest of the dry ingredients, and if you see them sticking to the side of the bowl, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  2. Finally, add the champagne, slowly, as it will fizz, mix for half a minute, then increase the speed to medium. Mix just until all ingredients are combined, you don’t want to overmix. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners. Fill each with tin two-thirds full. Bake for 17-22 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out with crumbs, not raw batter. Allow the individual cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack or cutting board before frosting them, for at least ten to fifteen minutes. Makes 14-16 cupcakes.
  3. For the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip one stick of softened butter on medium-high speed for one minute with the orange zest. Then drop the speed to low and add one cup of powdered sugar, followed by the orange juice. Slowly add the remaining two cups of powdered sugar, alternating with the juice, the speed still on low. When there is no loose powder left, add the food coloring, and increase the speed to medium-high for one-two minutes, until frosting looks thick and whipped. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes using an XL rose tip.

Orange Champagne Cupcakes with Orange Frosting

when-we-left-cuba-book-discussion-and-recipe

Rate the Recipe

Similar Reads

Other books by Chanel Cleeton include the first book in this series, Next Year in Havana, which tells Elisa’s story through the eyes of her granddaughter, as well as more truths about what happened in Cuba during the overthrow of Batista by Castro, and even what it is still like now, in communist-ruled Cuba.Some of her other books include Flirting with Scandal (Capital Confessions, #1), Fly With Me (Wild Aces, #1), and I See London (International School, #1).

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain is also about a powerful, attractive, motivated, dangerous woman involved in intrigue across the globe, who also falls in love with a powerful, renowned man—Ernest Hemingway.

Other historical fiction dramas are The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner, about the end of WWI and a family’s persecutions, or In Another Time by Jillian Cantor, about Germany, England, and the US pre-WWII. Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin of a woman working for the French Resistance at the Ritz during WWII.

For a book that reflects some of the relationship between Nick Preston and Beatriz Perez, Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb is about Grace Kelly and her wedding to a prince in the 19050s.

More books about women carving a new niche for those to follow in America, with themes of women’s rights are Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen, and American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt by Stephanie Marie Thornton about the rebellious girl who learned to use Washington and her family’s power to her advantage. Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini is about a group of women who go up against Hitler in Nazi Berlin. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is about a gorgeous Hollywood starlet who lived a scandalous life and is retelling her story to a young female journalist.

The Summer Country by Lauren Willig is about a sugar plantation empire in Barbados that should have gone to a man’s grandson, as it is the Victorian era. But instead, a young woman finds herself in charge of saving a property in ruins.

For another book about loss, tragedy, and overcoming those to become more than what fate threw at you, read The Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler, about a home in 1903 for girls who’ve found themselves pregnant and destitute, but where they can still remain with their children and try to find a better life.

Notable Quotes

“The thing about collecting marriage proposals is they’re much like cultivating eccentricities. One is an absolute must for being admired in polite society. Two ensure you’re a sought-after guest at parties, three add a soupcon of mystery, four are a scandal, and five, well, five make you a legend.”

“Fidel Castro has made beggars of all of us, and for that alone, I’d thrust a knife through his heart.”

“The thing about people telling you you’re beautiful your whole life is that the more you hear it, the more meaningless it becomes. What does ‘beautiful’ even mean anyway? That your features are arranged in a shape someone, somewhere, arbitrarily decided is pleasing? ‘Beautiful’ never quite matches up to the other things you could be: smart, interesting, brave.”

“There are no queens in Havana. Only a tyrant who aims to be king.”

“I am not some simpering debutante; I have done and seen things he cannot fathom.”

“They are, at their hearts, men, driven by things other than their intellect.”

“We left my brother behind in Cuba...his body interred beneath the same soil his killer snow control.”

“War is war and misery comes to all men, natives and foreigners alike. It’s hard talking to people who haven’t lived it, who haven’t seen the things you’ve seen, who don’t understand.”

“...you struggle to find where you fit in this world again...there’s always a piece of you back there...you begin to wonder why you were saved...if there’s some reason for your life, something you’re meant to do to pay back the debt you owe.”

“People are all too eager to take advantage of what you can do for them, what you can give them. Even more so when they are desperate.”

“Do we all have secrets lingering beneath our skin, private battles we fight?”

“Men always want that which they cannot, or should not, have.”

“Cuba is my home. It will always be home. I will always wish for it to be better, to be what I think it could be.”

“The only way to stop being afraid of something is to confront it. To take away its power over you.”

“Not all of us have the luxury of setting the world on fire, simply because we’re angry. We must work within the confines of the system, make changes where we can.”

“The thing about hope is that when it fills you, when you hold it in the palm of your hand, the promise of it is everything.”

“But what if that dream never comes true? Are you to be a widow to a country that has only ever existed in your dreams”?

“She’s never taken much stock in those ridiculous articles advising women to ‘dress their age.’ Everyone knows a woman should dress as she damn well pleases.”

“You always did possess more charm than God should give any one person.”

“If I’ve learned anything at this point, it’s that life comes down to timing. Things happen the way they are supposed to, the seemingly insignificant moments stringing together to lead you down a path you never imagined traversing…”

© 2019 Amanda Leitch

Comments

Shawindi Silva from Sri lanka on April 29, 2019:

The book looks great and the recipe is awesome !!!

Naude Lorenzo on April 26, 2019:

I love everything about this book, I came to this country from Cuba in 1962, 2 months later my first boy was born in Boston, I sincerely suggest reading it, the recipe sounds delicious, my family will love it, good job Amanda

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