TROPICAL SECRETS: HOLOCAUST REFUGEES IN CUBA by Margarita Engle

May 13, 2009 at 2:47 pm Leave a comment

tropicalDaniel and his family live through Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when Nazis rampaged through Berlin and smashed Jewish store windows. That night, Daniel sees his grandfather murdered by the Nazis. Only one ticket to escape is available. Only Daniel will board the ship to take him out of Germany while his musician parents remain behind. The ship first tries to land in Canada, then the United States, but it is refused entry. Finally, Daniel arrives in Cuba where he starts a new life not knowing anyone and not speaking the language. Engle alternates the voices of Daniel, David, an old Jewish refugee who is the first to help Daniel, Paloma, a Cuban girl who loves birds and people, and finally, Paloma’s father, a man who has made himself rich by demanding money from refugees. Told in free verse, each person talks about his inner struggles in this sunny land and his hopes for a better future. This is a fictionalized account of events that happened between 1938 and 1942 in Cuba. Despite Goebbel’s best efforts, from 1938 – 1939, Cuba granted asylum to 65,000 escaping Jews. The plight of the fleeing Jews is the main feature of this book, and there is little mention of the horrors of the camps. The characters are well-drawn and Cuban culture is prominently displayed.

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