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Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir

by Margarita Engle

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In this poetic memoir, which won the Pura Belpré Author Award, was a YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, and was named a Walter Dean Myers Award Honoree, acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place


In this poetic memoir, which won the Pura Belpré Author Award, was a YALSA Nonfiction Finalist, and was named a Walter Dean Myers Award Honoree, acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Veronica Chambers
From the very first sentence, Margarita Engle's memoir…takes wing…Enchanted Air is at its heart a book about travel. Some of it is specific: how we travel between languages, cultures and countries. But because Engle is such a gifted writer, this is a book that generously gives every reader a ticket to ride as she explores what it means to journey toward adulthood, traversing from one side of her family to the other, from the natural world of "tropical jungles, wild green parrots" that "remind me of island skies" to the back of the car on a family road trip when all her family can afford is a long, hot, adventure-seeking drive to Mexico.
Kathi Appelt
"In Margarita Engle's hauntingly beautiful memoir, readers can't help but feel as if they are pressing their hands with her against ancient cave walls and at the same time falling asleep in a darkened room full of fireflies. Engle's struggle to unite her twin selves—the Cuban girl who rides bareback with her cousins under a hot, steamy sun and the American girl who pretends to smoke in the school bathroom—lead the way to 'Herds of wild feelings/long extinct.' This is a book to return to, page after page, line after line. Exquisite."
* "Reflecting on her childhood in Los Angeles and her Cuban heritage, Engle’s memoir in verse is, indeed, nothing short of enchanting. Descriptions of Cuba as a tropical paradise and the home of her beloved abuelita come alive in the spare free-verse poems. She evocatively addresses weighty issues, such as her mother’s homesickness, being bicultural, the challenge of moving homes and schools, the Cuban Revolution, and negotiating an identity that is being torn apart by politics and social attitudes at complete odds with her feelings and experiences. With characteristic precision, Engle captures a range of emotions and observations salient to a young girl.... In addition to the arresting content that provides many opportunities for learning, the craft of this memoir lends itself to creative exploration in the classroom.... The book’s poignancy and layered beauty make it a worthy addition to any collection and a fitting companion to Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (2014) and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again (2011)."
VOYA, June 2015 (Vol. 38, No. 2) - Dawn Talbott
Enchanted Air recounts the life of author Margarita Engle from how her parents met through her fourteenth year. It is the life of a girl torn between two worlds. One home is the beautifully colorful island of Cuba, where her mother is from, and the other is the crowded noisy, metropolitan city of Los Angeles. Margarita faces struggles with being so far away from the lush tropical home where she can feel like her true self. In Cuba, she feels whole and content near the farms and beaches with the dazzling flora and fauna. In Los Angeles, she feels like a misfit, having difficulty relating to the students at school. Margarita takes refuge in nature when she can, and in writing poetry. When a revolution breaks out in Cuba, Margarita is denied the one great joy she has when her summer visits to the island are no longer allowed. In addition, fear and discrimination of Cuban Americans makes life even more difficult for her in the United States. Engle’s poetry wonderfully tells the tale of this young girl’s life. The format makes it easy to read while remaining a heartfelt account of Margarita’s story. Vivid language and a beautifully crafted artistry in words conveys the deep love Margarita has for her tropical home, as well as the harsh struggle in dealing with discrimination, fear, loneliness, and the feeling of isolation that this young girl must face during the “almost war” during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is a worthy selection for fans of the genre. Reviewer: Dawn Talbott; Ages 12 to 18.
School Library Journal
★ 05/01/2015
Gr 6–10—A deeply personal memoir-in-verse filled with Engle's trademark intricately woven lyricism. The author's memories focus on the first 14 years of her life, beginning with idyllic summers spent in her mother's homeland of Cuba and ending during the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequent travel ban. Engle captures the heart of a quiet, young girl torn between two cultures. This historical memoir/love poem to Cuba couldn't be more timely. With the recent easing of relations with Cuba, teachers can use the text as an accessible entry point into the history behind this very current event. And while the narrative unfolds over 50 years ago, Engle's experiences will still resonate with adolescents and teens today. Any child who has felt like an outsider will recognize themselves in Margarita's tale. When the Cuban Missile Crisis ended and everyone's focus shifted, \the author was left confused, empty and unfulfilled by her school's seemingly senseless focus on what felt like irrelevant historical events. What American child with ties to a country experiencing turmoil couldn't relate to the lingering after-effects of far off events in our era of two-minute news bytes? VERDICT A more than worthwhile purchase for any library in need of a universally applicable coming-of-age tale, a fantastic new memoir-in-verse, or a glimpse into Cuba's past.—Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, Montclair, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-04-15
"It really is possible to feel / like two people / at the same time, / when your parents / grandparents / memories / words / come from two / different / worlds." Poet and novelist Engle has won a Newbery Honor, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Américas Award, among others. Of Cuban-American descent, she has mostly written about Cuba and Cuban history. This time she brings readers her own childhood. Employing free verse, she narrates growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and early '60s torn by her love of two countries: the United States, where she was born and raised, and Cuba, where her mother was from and where she spent vacations visiting family. Woven into the fabric of her childhood is the anxiety of deteriorating relations between the two countries as the Cuban revolution takes place, affecting both her family and the two countries at large. This is also the time when Engle discovers books and her own poetry as safe places to retreat to. Though it is a very personal story, it is also one that touches on issues affecting so many immigrants, as when she wonders: "Is there any way that two people / from faraway places / can ever really / understand each other's / daydreams?" As so many of our children are immigrants or children of immigrants, we need more of these stories, especially when they are as beautifully told as this one. (Cold War timeline, author's note) (Poetry/memoir. 10 & up)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)
1120L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Enchanted Air

  • The first time my parents

    take me soaring through magical sky

    to meet my mother’s family in Cuba,

    I am so little that I can hardly speak

    to my island relatives—

    my abuelita, my old grandma,

    who still loves to dance,

    and her ancient mamá, my great-grandma,

    who still loves to garden, working

    just as hard as any strong

    young man.

    Already, this island is beginning to seem

    like a fairy-tale kingdom,

    where ordinary people

    do impossible


  • Meet the Author

    Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet and novelist whose books include The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor book and winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Américas Award; The Poet Slave of Cuba, winner of the Pura Belpré Award and the Américas Award; Tropical Secrets; The Firefly Letters; Hurricane Dancers; The Wild Book; The Lightning Dreamer, winner of the PEN Literary Award for Young Adult Literature; Silver People; Drum Dream Girl, winner of the Charlotte Zolotow Award; and her memoir Enchanted Air, winner of the Pura Belpré Author Award and a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor. She lives with her husband in central California. Visit her at MargaritaEngle.com.

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