Tropical Secrets

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle

Daniel left his family behind in Nazi Germany and sailed for New York for a new life.  But his boat is rejected by the Americans and ends up in tropical Cuba.  He still hopes to reunite with his parents one day, but doesn’t know how they will ever find him in this unexpected port.   He is befriended by a young Cuban girl, Paloma, who is the daughter of the man who decides the fate of the refugees that arrive in their port.  And there is also David, a Russian refugee who fled long ago to Cuba.  These three are captured and celebrated in Engle’s poetry where their fears, joys and friendship are the foundation.

Engle writes with such power and clarity that her poems are startling.  They enthrall with their words and then end sometimes with a shove, as reality comes hurtling back.  Readers as with her characters are not allowed to daydream for long.  She has the ability through poems to create a cohesive novel yet each of her poems could be read separately and be complete.  This is an incredible achievement.  Her characters are distinct and interesting, each grappling with their own demons but living in the same place.  She writes of our commonalities and differences with a fearlessness that makes it all discussable and accessible. 

Highly recommended as are all of Engle’s novels in verse, this book sings with history, truth and wonder.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

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