A novel based on the dazzling story of one of Hollywood’s most celebrated Hispanic actresses and her daughter’s search for closure.
Cuba, 1936: When Estelita Rodriguez sings in a hazy Havana nightclub for the very first time, she is nine years old. From then on, that spotlight of adoration–from Havana to New York’s Copacabana and then Hollywood–becomes the one true accomplishment no one can take from her. Not the 1933 Cuban Revolution that drove her family into poverty. Not the revolving door of husbands or the fickle world of film.
Thirty years later, her young adult daughter, Nina, is blindsided by her mother’s mysterious death. Seeking answers, the grieving Nina navigates the troubling, opulent memories of their life together and discovers how much Estelita sacrificed to live the American dream on her own terms.
Based on true events and exclusive interviews with Nina Lopez, Estelita’s daughter, Find Me in Havana weaves two unforgettable voices into one extraordinary story that explores the unbreakable bond between mother and child, and the ever-changing landscape of self-discovery.
Find Me In Havana is a historical fiction based on the life of actress Estelita Rodriguez. Despite her career its focus is not on her life in film. We are given insight into the Cuban revolution when Castro came to power. But this book is not really about that either. This book is about a mother and a daughter.
It is written in an epistolary style with chapters alternating between letters from Estelita and her daughter Nina. It is interesting to see their feelings and mindsets. How each of them experiences these different life events. You get to see how their perception differs. For example when Nina is kidnapped by her father she feels as if her mother has sent her away. That she has once again chosen her career or someone else over her. But Estelita feels rejected as well, not sure if Nina chose to leave.
Here you have a woman who performed with the likes of Desi Arnaz, starred in films opposite John Wayne and hung out with Sammy Davis Jr. But Estelita and Nina did not have a glamorous life. Besides the kidnapping, there’s molestation, rape, domestic violence and substance abuse. The two were not close to their extended family. Their support system consisted of Estelita’s mother. Despite her devotion, all Nina wanted was to be alone with her mother. Just the two of them for once. No grandma. No husbands. No admirers. Just her and her mom.
As much as Find Me In Havana is about that mother-daughter bond, it does capture the time period vividly. In some cases with shocking revelation which prompted me to do my own web sleuthing. Whenever I read an historical fiction I want to know where the line between fact and fiction lies. And I want to know how much creative license was used. But in all my searching I couldn’t find too many facts about Estelita’s life. Even on websites dedicated to her, there were scarce details about her personal life outside her four marriages. There was also a lot of mystery surrounding her death. Some sources said it was influenza. Others said that the cause of death was undetermined.
I was happy when I stumbled upon an interview with Estelita’s daughter Nina Lopez where she is talking with author Serena Burdick. She was pleased with the end result of the book. Not only did Burdick present a true picture of her mother and their life together, but she was able to capture the essence of Nina’s feelings and her inner thoughts. She confirms that there is truth in these words. But for some reason Nina seemed sad to me. When I finished the book I was hopeful for her. Part of my combing the internet was to find her. To find what had become of her. Had she found her place in the world? Was she getting the attention she so desperately craved as a child? Does she feel full, sated with all that life has to offer? I guess this is a testament to Burdick’s writing, as I feel as if I know Nina personally and why I am invested in her actual life story.
Find Me In Havana is my second novel by Serena Burdick. The common thread that I see with Burdick is looking at women in history and telling those stories that have been lost or forgotten. Here she is to say that these women lived. That these are there stories. That there truths will not be buried, nor their memories forsaken.