Friday, April 22, 2011

National Poetry Month: The Firefly Letters

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to CubaThe Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba Margarita Engle


The castle where Fredrika
spend her childhood
was haunted.

In the attic, there was a sword
that had beheaded a nobleman
during a war.

There were bloodstained clothes
beside the sword.

None of the servants would climb
up to the attic to fetch boxes or trunks
that had been stored
next to ghosts.


This house where I live
it haunted too.

It was built by slaves
who rebelled, and buried an overseer
inside the walls.

Papa has never been able to find
the skeleton,
but sometimes at night
I hear pitiful moans
and rattling chains.

It is either the ghost
of some poor child
from the slave ships
being driven
to market.

In 1851, Sweden's first female novelist journeyed to Cuba. Drawing extensively from her journals, Engle writes a verse novel based on Fredrika Bremer's time there.

The book is mostly told in three voices-- Fredrika's, Elena's (the daughter of the rich family Fredrika is staying with) and Cecelia's (a slave belonging to Elena's family, who acts as Fredrika's translator and guide.)

Although I found the CONSTANT parallels drawn between a woman's role and actual slavery to be a bit much and overdrawn (yes, you had no freedom if you were a rich man's daughter, but you weren't in actual chains) overall, I did really enjoy this book. I also think it makes an interesting companion to Engle's other book on Cuban slavery, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom. I especially enjoyed seeing Cuba through three different sets of eyes-- a slave who still remembered life in Africa, a Swedish aristocrat, and a Cuban aristocrat-- they had such different opinions and noticed such different things, it gives reader a more complete picture of daily life.

Book Provided by... my local library

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