Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba Margarita Engle
Islands belong to the sea,
not the earch.
All around me
the world is blue.
Above, more blue,
like a hot, melting star.
Music is the only part
of Cuba's heated air
that feels like something
I can breathe.
Regular readers know I am a huge fan of Margarita Engle's verse novels. Each one deals with some aspect of Cuban history and is told in multiple voices. In this one, the main voice is Daniel, a Jewish teenager from Berlin, whose parents could only afford to get one person out, him. They said they'd meet him in New York, but his ship wasn't allowed to land in New York and ended up in Havanna. Paloma is a Cuban girl who helps the Quakers with the refugees. Her mother ran off to Paris with another man, her father charges huge fees and bribes for entry visas and then sometimes rejects the ship anyway. Her father has a few poems, too. The last voice is David, an old Ukranian Jew who fled to Cuba decades before.
It's the story of David trying to come to grips with life on a tropical island, his hope that he'll see his parents again, his growing knowledge that he probably won't. It's the story of Paloma coming to terms with the sins of her father. It's the story of their friendship.
It's a slight book, both in page count and also because of the verse format, but instead of leaving holes in the story, it makes it uncluttered and it never feels like there's too much going on. We just get brief glimpses into the lives of these people as they try to make sense of a world gone crazy. Engle's poetry really shines when describing Cuba-- how it feels, how it sounds, what it looks like. It helps make Daniel's initial disorientation all the more real, but we also see how he falls in love with the island.
It's also different than many of the WWII/Holocaust books out there. This is the first time I've read about the Jewish refugees in Cuba and it's not a part of the diaspora that is well covered, even in Jewish circles.
It's more personal and less sweeping than some of her other books and I recommend it.
Today's Poetry Friday round up is over at Random Noodling. Be sure to check it out!
Book Provided by... my local library
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