Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

by Margarita Engle
     
 

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Daniel has escaped Nazi Germany with nothing but a desperate dream that he might one day find his parents again. But that golden land called New York has turned away his ship full of refugees, and Daniel finds himself in Cuba.

As the tropical island begins to work its magic on him, the young refugee befriends a local girl with some painful secrets of her own

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Overview

Daniel has escaped Nazi Germany with nothing but a desperate dream that he might one day find his parents again. But that golden land called New York has turned away his ship full of refugees, and Daniel finds himself in Cuba.

As the tropical island begins to work its magic on him, the young refugee befriends a local girl with some painful secrets of her own. Yet even in Cuba, the Nazi darkness is never far away . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Newbery Honor-author Engle (The Surrender Tree) again mines Cuban history for her third novel in verse, this time focusing on Jewish refugees who sought asylum from the Nazis in Havana. Covering the period from 1939 to 1942, first-person poems alternate among 13-year-old Paloma, whose father is a corrupt Cuban bureaucrat; David, a Russian immigrant; and Daniel, whom readers meet aboard a ship in Havana harbor. Daniel, also 13, is alone: "My parents are musicians-/ poor people, not rich./ They had only enough money/ for one ticket to flee Germany." The boy's isolation anchors the story emotionally. Daniel is befriended by Paloma, who feels guilt over her father's acceptance of bribes for visas, and mentored by David, who warns Daniel that he must tame "three giants"-the heat, the language and loneliness. Worries about German spies among the refugees suddenly makes the "J" label on Daniel's passport a coveted symbol, as only non-Jewish Germans are arrested. Engle gracefully packs a lot of information into a spare and elegant narrative that will make this historical moment accessible to a wide range of readers. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)

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Children's Literature - Miriam Chernick
This novel in verse is told primarily in two voices: that of thirteen-year old Daniel, a Jewish refugee who flees Germany on a boat to Cuba in 1939, and of Paloma, a local Cuban girl who is eager to help Daniel and other refugees. Despite their differences, Daniel and Paloma become friends, each with their own secrets, which they eventually trust one another enough to share. Daniel dares to hope he will see his parents again. His new discoveries: the Spanish language, tropical fruit, dancing, Carnival music, are juxtaposed against his longing for the life and family he was forced to leave behind. Paloma dares to dream of one day being a dancer like the mother who abandoned her. She also longs to confront her father about getting rich selling visas to refugees and working as an agent for the Cuban authorities. Just when Daniel is starting to feel safe in Cuba, a campaign is launched to arrest all Christian refugees under suspicion of being Nazi spies. Paloma and Daniel hide one such refugee, Mark, and his Jewish wife Miriam. Daniel finds solace in helping this couple, as well as in mentoring a young refugee with his same name and shared interest in music. By the end of this beautifully written story, the reader is filled with hope for a brighter future for Daniel and the others who escaped the Nazi regime. Reviewer: Miriam Chernick
School Library Journal
Gr 6–10—Succinct free verse poems (Holt, 2009) by Margarita Engle relate this interesting, little known piece of world history. After Kristallnacht, pogroms staged in 1938 by the Nazis against the Jews in Germany, Daniel's parents have just enough money to buy him a ticket and get him out of the country. Daniel, 13, arrives in Cuba in 1939 aboard a refugee ship that was first turned away from Canada and then from the U.S. The boy is one of the thousands of Jews to receive sanctuary in Cuba during the Holocaust. After Pearl Harbor, Cuban officials grow concerned about espionage and imprison German Christians. The red "J" on Daniel's passport that condemned him in Germany, ironically saves him now. An older Russian Jewish refugee, David, and a young Cuban girl, Paloma, befriend Daniel and the three work together to try to save an elderly couple from persecution. Paloma has secrets and her father, El Gordo, is a corrupt official who defrauds refugees and holds them hostage to his greedy monetary demands. The full-cast narration gives an authentic and distinct voice to each character and will engage listeners. This is historical fiction at its best. A personal note read by the author relates the history of the era and her own family story.—Patricia McClune, Conestoga Valley High School, Lancaster, PA
Kirkus Reviews
Readers familiar with the author's prior works (The Poet Slave of Cuba, 2006, etc.) will recognize both style and themes in this verse novel set in World War II-era Cuba. The story, like its companion volumes, unfolds through alternating first-person narrative poems. Daniel, a 13-year-old Holocaust refugee, arrives in Cuba without his parents and is taken under wing of the elderly David, who immigrated to Cuba from Russia in the 1920s. He meets 13-year-old Paloma, who works to assist the refugees in defiance of her disagreeable but powerful father, El Gordo. A bureaucrat, he inflates the price of visas for Jews seeking refuge in Cuba, although he is not above making a few dark contributions of his own while the young characters attempt to do the right thing. Engle's tireless drive to give voice to the silenced in Cuban history provides fresh options for young readers. An author's note reveals her close relationship with this particular part of Cuban history. Stylistically, however, the manipulation of characters and their fictional conflicts seem, in this latest addition, formulaic. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)
From the Publisher

“This book is an outstanding choice for young people of all reading skills. Reluctant readers will be encouraged by the open layout and brief text, and everyone will be captivated by the eloquent poems and compelling characters.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“Engle gracefully packs a lot of information into a spare and elegant narrative that will make this historical moment accessible to a wide range of readers.” —Publishers Weekly

“Engle's tireless drive to give voice to the silenced in Cuban history provides fresh options for young readers.” —Kirkus Reviews

“As in The Poet Slave of Cuba (2006) and The Surrender Tree (2008), both selected as Booklist Editors' Choice titles, Engle's latest book tells another story set in Cuba of those left out of the history books. In fluid, clear, free verse, two young people speak in alternating personal narratives...the international secrets make for a gripping story about refugees that becomes sharply focused through the viewpoint of the boy wrenched from home, haunted by the images of shattered glass and broken family.” —Booklist

“This moving free-verse historical novel tells the tale of thirteen-year-old Daniel, a Jewish refugee who escapes Nazi Germany in 1939 in hopes of finding safety abroad…the emphasis on the inner life of the characters gives the narrative an emotional drama that transcends its period.” —BCCB

“Readers who think they might not like a novel in verse will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly and smoothly the story flows...The book will provide great fodder for discussion of the Holocaust, self-reliance, ethnic and religious bias, and more.” —VOYA

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429919814
Publisher:
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
03/31/2009
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
208
Lexile:
1170L (what's this?)
File size:
105 KB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


JUNE, 1939

DANIEL

Last year, in Berlin

on the Night of Crystal

my grandfather was killed

while I held his hand.

The shattered glass

of a thousand windows

turned into the salty liquid

of tears.

How can hatred have

such a beautiful name?

Crystal should be clear

but on that dark night

the glass of broken windows

did not glitter.

Nothing could be seen

through the haze

of pain.

DANIEL

My parents are musicians

poor people, not rich.

They had only enough money

for one ticket to flee Germany

where Jewish families like ours

are disappearing

during nights

of crushed glass.

My parents chose to save me

instead of saving themselves

so now, here I am, alone

on a German ship

stranded in Havana Harbor

halfway around

the huge world.

Thousands of other Jewish refugees

stand all around me

on the deck of the ship

waiting for refuge.

DANIEL

First, the ship sailed

to New York

and then Canada

but we were turned away

at every harbor.

If Cuba does not

allow us to land

will we be sent back

to Germany’s

shattered nights?

With blurry eyes

and an aching head

I force myself to believe

that Cuba will help us

and that someday

I will find my parents

and we will be a family

once again.

PALOMA

One more ship

waits in the harbor

one ship among so many

all filled with sad strangers

waiting for permission to land

here in Cuba.

Our island must seem

like such a peaceful resting place

on the way to safety.

I stand in a crowd

on the docks, wondering why

all these ships

have been turned away

from the United States

and Canada.

DANIEL

One of the German sailors

sees me gazing

over the ship’s railing

at the sunny island

with its crowded docks

where strangers stand

gazing back at us.

The sailor calls me

an evil name---

then he spits in my face

but I am too frightened

to wipe away

the thick, liquid hatred.

So I cling to the railing

in silence

with spit on my forehead.

I am thirteen, a young man

but today I feel

like a baby seagull

with a broken beak.

DANIEL

This tropical heat

is a weight in the sky

crushing my breath

but I will not remove

my winter coat, and my fur hat

or the itchy wool scarf

my mother knitted

or the gloves my father gave me

to keep my hands warm

so that we could all

play music together

someday, in the Golden Land

called New York.

I am secretly terrified

that if I remove

my warm clothes

someone will steal them

along with my fading

stubborn dream

of somehow reaching the city

where my parents promised

to find me

beside a glowing door

at the base of a statue

called Liberty

in a city

with seasons of snow

just like home.

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Meet the Author

Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, and The Firefly Letters. She lives in northern California.


Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. She lives in northern California.

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