Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle was the 2010 recipient of the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers. After reading the book, written in free verse, I can understand why the book was selected. Especially when you combine the format with the little known history of Jewish refugees in Cuba.

The colorful and exotic cover art invites the reader to join Daniel, David, Paloma, and Paloma's father in 1940 Cuba. Daniel is a young Jewish refuge from Germany who is among the people allowed to disembark from the large ship in Cuba. The ship was turned away in Canada and the United States. David is an older Jewish man who fled Russia many years before World War II. Paloma is the daughter of a wealthy Cuban who is stuffing his own pockets at the expense of the refugees who have to pay him to come off the ship. The story of these four people is told in alternating poetic verses. David tries to give Daniel advice about living in a new country while Paloma befriends Daniel against her father's wishes. The two young people share sad secrets as they try to reach for their dreams.

Joy and truth both have a way
of peeking through any dark curtain.
(p. 73)

One of the more interesting points made in the book is that many non-Jewish Germans were arrested in Cuba as spies. In many cases, having the J for Jew stamped on the passport saved a person from being arrested. How different from Europe where the J was enough to be killed. The young people hide a husband and wife who would have been arrested. Compassion and understanding are strong components of this book.

TITLE: Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba
AUTHOR: Margarita Engle
PAGES: 198
TYPE: Holocaust fiction
AWARD: 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers
RECOMMEND: I enjoyed the format of the book and am grateful to the author for providing us with knowledge of a little known group of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

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