In May 1939, when Professor Carl Mueller, his wife, Esther, and their three children flee Nazi Germany, and find refuge on the paradise island of Cuba, they are all full of hopes and dreams for a safe and happy future.
But those dreams are shattered when Carl and Esther are confronted by a ghost from their past, and old betrayals return to haunt them.
The turbulent years of political corruption leading to Batista’s dictatorship, forces the older children to take very different paths to pursue their own dangerous dreams.
And – among the chaos and the conflict that finally leads to Castro’s revolution and victory in 1959, an unlikely love begins to grow – a love that threatens the whole family.
Having escaped a war-torn Europe, their Island of Dreams is to tear them apart forever.
They were sitting on the bank of a small river that bordered the estate. A couple of medium-sized catfish stared up at them, glassy-eyed, from the grass. Anna had gone from triumph at landing her fish to her pet topic of the moment, Freddie Sanchez.
‘I thought you liked him?’ Jose said.
‘No. I hate him,’ Anna replied.
‘He laughed at me for getting your family to share the profits.’
‘I’m not surprised.’
‘And I don’t trust him. The way he looks at Mama.’
‘Do you think he’s after her?’ Jose asked, wide-eyed.
‘I shouldn’t be surprised. She and Papa never speak. They hardly see each other. It would be just like Freddie to take advantage of her. She’s so gullible.’
Jose frowned. ‘What’s gull-bull?
‘Gullible. She’s easily…fooled. He could say things to her and she’d believe him.’
‘Are you jealous?’
‘No!’ Anna rounded on him. ‘Don’t be ridiculous…! Ridiculous!’
Jose poked the ground with his finger, contrite. ‘Sorry’.
‘He’s so smug,’ she continued, vehemently. ‘He doesn’t believe anything can change!’
‘Here in Cuba. For poor people like you. I said all people should be treated fairly. That they should be equal, and he just laughed!’
Jose shrugged. ‘Maybe they can’t.’
‘They can, Jose! My Papa’s going to lead the way!’ She went on, enthusiasm burning fiercely. ‘Tomorrow when the harvest starts your family are going to share in the profits!’
‘My uncle doesn’t believe that. He says nothing ever changes.’
‘Well, he’s stupid..! Hasn’t he ever told you about Jose Marti?’
‘Your great hero. The man who led the revolution against the Spanish! He changed things.’
Jose frowned. ‘When? What?’
‘Back in the last century. He inspired people. He gave them hope. Showed them things can change, if you fight for them.’
‘What happened to him?’
‘He died in a battle.’
Jose pondered this piece of information, unconvinced.
‘Haven’t you ever read about him?’ Anna said. ‘About your history?’
The boy shifted his seat in the grass and picked up a catfish. He turned it in his hands, mumbling something.
‘Pardon? What did you say?’
Anna was taken aback for a moment. Then brightly said, ‘I’ll teach you!’
‘What are you sniffing at? Don’t you want to learn to read?’
‘I can smell something’, Jose said looking around. He sniffed again and then stood up. ‘There!’
Anna stood and looked in the direction of Jose’s pointing finger. Beyond the palms thick black smoke was billowing high into the cloudless sky.
‘The cane’s on fire!’ Jose yelled.
A long chain of workers passed buckets and anything that could hold water, from the river to the burning cane. The fire had taken hold in various places and was spreading rapidly, fanned by wind created by the searing heat. Their faces blackened, Anna and Jose dashed around the fringes of the flames trying to beat them out with wet palm leaves.
Anna thrashed desperately at the blazing sugar cane, choking back tears that weren’t just caused by the swirling smoke.
But it was hopeless. Within half an hour the ripe crop was reduced to acrid, smouldering ashes. The workers stood, exhausted and tearful, watching the thick pyre of smoke hanging above the ruins of the harvest that was to have changed their lives.
Jose’s uncle arrived and dismounted from the horse on which he had inspected the far reaches of the plantation. He looked at them, standing ashen-faced among the charred cane. ‘All gone. All gone.’
Jose sniffed the air. Among the fumes rising from the scorched crop he detected another smell. He sniffed again.
Freddie looked at his friend, concerned. Suddenly Carl had aged. He looked old and defeated. ‘Arson?’
‘There was petrol everywhere,’ Carl replied grimly. ‘In several places. Isabel’s husband and his cronies, of course.’
Freddie shrugged, sympathetically. ‘But you’ll never prove that. They own the island.’
Carl nodded, conceding the truth of the statement.
On hearing the terrible news Esther had taken to her bed, distraught. And when Freddie had arrived at the Mueller house, unannounced, Anna had immediately rounded on him.
‘What are you here for! Have you come to gloat!’
‘Anna, please!’ her father reproved. ‘Have some manners!’
It pained Freddie that the young girl whose fiery nature he’d come to admire still bore her grudge, but he didn’t show it. ‘Actually, I came to offer my condolences. I know that’s really no help…’
‘But it’s very much appreciated,’ Carl said.
They were silent as Carlotta entered and mutely served them coffee. Her customary happy banter absent.
‘We’re ruined, of course,’ Carl said, when she had gone. His voice was broken. ‘There’s the mortgage on the house, the estate…’ He sighed angrily. ‘My foolish ideas! My idiotic pride!’
‘Don’t blame yourself for other people’s failings, Carl. Perhaps, what you tried to do was right.’
Anna looked at Freddie.
Reading her puzzled expression, he continued, ‘I never said I didn’t agree with you, or your father’s principles, Anna. Just that others would see them in a different light.’
‘And you were right,’ Carl said gloomily. ‘How could I have been so naïve! After what I witnessed in Germany?’ He looked at Freddie, appealing. ‘What am I do to?’
‘Forgive me for prying, but have you no capital?’
Freddie hesitated, then went on. ‘What about…about the necklace?’
Carl looked at him, enquiringly. ‘What? Esther’s necklace?’
‘I thought I saw her wearing it. Does she still have it?’
‘Yes, yes, but she will never part with it.’
Freddie ignored the remark. Now was not the time for sentimentality. ‘Forgive me, Carl. But I had it appraised when you sent it to me. I could get you a very, very good price. One that, I’m assured, would solve a lot of your problems.’
‘Then she will have to let it go!’ said Anna forcefully. Her tone allowed no argument.
A trace of a smile crossed Freddie’s face. She got that from her mother.
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Meet Harry Duffin
Harry Duffin is an award-winning British screenwriter, who was on the first writing team of the BBC’s ‘Eastenders’ and won the Writers’ Guild Award for Best TV serial for ‘Coronation Street’.
He was Head of Development at Cloud 9 Screen Entertainment Group, producing seven major television series, including ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ starring Richard ‘John Boy’ Thomas, and ‘Twist in the Tale’, featuring William Shatner.
He was the co-creator of the UK Channel Five teen-cult drama series ‘The Tribe’, which ran for five series.
He has written three novels, Chicago May, Birth of the Mall Rats [an intro to the TV series ‘The Tribe’], and Island of Dreams, which will be published in December 2022.
Chicago May is the first book of a two-part series: www.chicagomay.com
Connect with Harry
Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/harry-duffin
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Harry-Duffin/e/B005KR3E74