Friday, April 08, 2011

National Poetry Month Poetry Friday! The Surrender Tree

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for FreedomThe Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom Margarita Engle


We experiment
like scientists.

One flower cures
only certain fevers.

We try another.
We fail, then try a root, leaf,
moss, or fern...

One petal fails.
Another succeeds.

Jose and I are both learning
how to learn.

Lieutenant Death

The witch
can be heard
singing in treetops.

The witch
can be seen--
a shadow
in caves.

I search,
and I search.

She vanishes,
just like the maddening
morning mists
and the wild
mambi rebels.

They attack.
We retreat.
They hide.
We seek.

The Surrender Tree starts in 1850, when Rosa, a slave girl with healing knowledge, is lent out to the slave hunter and his son. It follows Rosa, the son (Lieutenant Death), and a complete cast of characters throughout the next 50 years as Cuba fights multiple wars in an attempt to win independence from Spain. Throughout these years, Rosa (and her husband Jose) start field hospitals and work to heal those who are wounded or sick. Throughout these years, Lieutenant Death hunts the woman who heals the sick, the woman the girl he met years ago has grown into.

Most of the history and politics of the situation are explained in the backmatter, but they're not important for enjoying the story. The sparse language helps keep the tense mood as characters struggle for independence, survival, and a better future.

I really enjoyed the multiple narratives, clearly defined by naming each poem after the character speaking. It was very useful to see different views on the same situation-- not just different sides of the war, but what Rosa's thinking as she heals people followed by Jose's worries that she's working too hard and pushing herself too far. I especailly loved it later the book, when Silvia was introduced. The characters we started with had gone from children to older adults and the addition of a child's view of the situations was refreshing from the war-weary voices that had come to dominate.

Although I don't speak Spanish, I appreciated that this book is really 2 books in one-- the English edition followed by the complete Spanish translation. Not only does it make the work accessible to non-English readers, but I think this is a book that would work really well in a Spanish class.

And of course, it's the second Poetry Friday in April, which is National Poetry Month! This past week I featured poems from the anthology Not a Muse: The Inner Lives of Women, a World Poetry Anthology. This next week will be a grab-bag of things, but check back for your daily dose of poetry goodness.

Today's round-up is over at Madigan Reads!

Book Provided by... my local library

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1 comment:

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I enjoyed reading this book too. It took me a while to get the voices and characters straightened out; but once I was sucked in I really couldn't put it down! Thank for the review.