Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

by Margarita Engle

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Overview

Turned away from the shores of New York, a young Jewish boy seeks refuge in Cuba during WWII. Here in this tropical sanctuary, so far away from Germany, will he be safe from Nazi influence?

A stunning new novel in verse from Margarita Engle, the Pura Belpré Award–winning author of The Poet Slave of Cuba

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 instead.

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 . . .

While Daniel is a fictional character, Tropical Secrets is based on real events in history. This book is perfect for young adults who are interested in reading stories about refugees, immigrants, and the pernicious reach of fascist influence during World War II.

Praise for Tropical Secrets:

“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

“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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250129819
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 12/12/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 273,306
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

Tropical Secrets

Holocaust Refugees in Cuba


By Margarita Engle

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2009 Margarita Engle
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-1981-4



CHAPTER 1

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 or 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.

    If I remove
    my warm clothes,
    someone might 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.


    PALOMA

    My father's secrets
    torment me.

    Almost every evening
    I hear him whispering plans
    as he dines and drinks
    with other officials,
    the ones who decide
    what will happen
    to all the sad people
    on their patient boats.

    Last night
    I heard my father say
    that all these refugees
    from faraway places
    are making him rich.

    I heard him bickering
    with his friends
    about the price they will charge
    for permission to come ashore
    and find refuge
    in Cuba.


    DANIEL

    The only riches I have ever known
    are the sounds of pianos, flutes, and violins,
    so when the German sailors on this ship
    keep telling me that I am rich
    and that I should pay them
    to stop spitting in my face,
    I feel like laughing and crying
    at the same time.

    I have only a few coins
    sewn into a secret place
    inside my heavy, itchy coat,
    but my parents warned me
    that I will need
    that little bit of money
    no matter where I end up,
    so I must let the sailors spit.

    I keep telling myself
    that if I ever reach New York
    or any other safe place

    I will look back on this day
    of heat and humiliation
    and none of it will matter
    as long as I am free
    to play music
    and to believe
    that I still have a family
    somewhere.


    PALOMA

    When I overhear my father's secrets,
    I understand —
    any ship turned away from Cuba
    will have no place to go,
    no safe place on earth.

    Those ships will return
    to Germany,
    where all the refugees
    will suddenly be homeless
    and helpless
    in their own homeland.

    My father thinks it is funny,
    a clever trick
    the way he sells visas
    to enter our small island nation
    and then decides
    whether the people
    who buy the visas
    will actually be allowed
    to land.


    DANIEL

    Land!
    Solid ground,
    the firmness of earth
    beneath my shoes,
    even if it is just a filthy street
    crowded with beggars
    wearing strange costumes

    and people
    of all different colors
    mixed up together,
    as if God had poured out
    a bunch of leftover paints
    after making brown rocks
    and beige sand....


    PALOMA

    Drumming ...
    someone is drumming
    on our front door. ...

    It's the sound of a vendor
    knocking at the door
    and singing in Spanish
    with his raspy Russian accent,
    singing about cold, sweet ice cream,
    vanilla in a chocolate shell,
    like some sort of odd sea creature
    from the far north.

    Papá would be furious
    if he knew that I am a friend
    of the old man who sells ice cream
    door to door.

    Papá would be angry
    not only because Davíd
    is poor and foreign
    but also because he is Jewish,
    a refugee who came to Cuba
    from the Ukraine
    long ago.

    I open the door
    and greet Davíd.
    I buy the cold treat quietly —
    whispering is a skill I have learned
    by watching my father
    make his secret deals.


    PALOMA

    The next singing vendor
    who comes along
    is a Chinese man selling herbs
    and red ribbons to ward off
    the evil eye.

    I buy one strand of protection
    for each of my long black braids
    and a third for the dovecote,
    my castlelike tower
    in our huge, forested garden —
    the tower where I feed my winged friends,
    wild doves who come and go as they please,
    gentle friends, not captives in cages.

    Even bright ribbons and cold ice cream
    are not enough to make me feel
    like an ordinary twelve-year-old girl.

    I feel like a fairy-tale princess
    cursed with deadly secrets
    that must be kept silent.


    DANIEL

    Hundreds of refugees
    crowd into the central courtyard —
    an open patio at the heart
    of an oddly shaped Cuban house.

    I am not accustomed to buildings
    with trees and flowers at the center
    and a view of open sky
    right in the middle of the house
    where one would expect to find
    a stone fireplace
    and sturdy brick walls.

    Brown-skinned Cubans
    and a red-haired American Quaker woman
    take turns trying to give me
    new clothes made of cotton,
    but I refuse to take off
    my thick winter coat.

    I find it almost impossible
    to believe that I will ever
    see my parents again,
    but at the same time
    I secretly remember
    their dream
    of being reunited
    in a cold, glowing city.

    I don't see how I can survive
    without that tiny sliver of hope,
    my imaginary snow.


    DANIEL

    A friendly old man
    gives me one ice-cream bar
    after another.

    He says he had to flee Russia
    long ago, just as I have fled Germany.

    He tells me he understands how I feel —
    I am certain that no one
    could ever understand,
    but he speaks Yiddish
    so I shower him with questions.

    He tells me his name is David
    and that over the years
    he has grown used to hearing his name
    pronounced the Spanish way — Davíd,
    with an accent on the second syllable,
    like the sound of a musical burst
    at the end.

    I promise myself that I will never
    let anyone change the rhythm
    of my name.


    DANIEL

    Two days later, I am still wearing
    my heavy coat.

    The old ice-cream man tells me
    that I will have to stay here in hot, sweaty
    Hotel Cuba,
    so I might as well remove
    my uncomfortable clothing.

    It takes me a while to figure out
    that David is joking.
    I am not really in a hotel
    but in some sort of strange
    makeshift shelter for refugees.

    The ice cream is charity,
    my melting breakfast
    and messy dinner.


    DANIEL

    A girl with olive skin and green eyes
    helps David pass out festive plates
    of saffron-yellow rice
    and soupy black beans.

    The girl has wavy red ribbons
    woven into her thick black braids.
    She glances at me, and I glare back,
    trying to tell her to leave me alone.

    The meal is strange, but after two days
    of ice cream, hot food tastes good
    even in this sweltering
    tropical weather.

    My coat is folded up beside me.
    I am finally wearing cotton clothing,
    cool and comfortable,
    a shirt and pants donated
    by strangers.

    What choice do I have?
    I still cling to my dream
    of a family reunion
    in snowy New York,
    but in the meantime, here I am
    in the sweaty tropics,
    struggling to breathe humid air
    that feels as thick as the steam
    from a pot of my mother's
    fragrant tea.


    DANIEL

    The girl asks me questions
    in Spanish

    while the ice-cream man translates
    into Yiddish.

    Back and forth we go,
    passing words from one language
    to another,

    and none of them are my own
    native tongue, Berlin's familiar
    German.

    Still, I am grateful
    that Jews in Europe
    all share Yiddish,

    the language of people
    who have had to flee
    from one land to another
    more than once.


    DAVID

    I am glad that I have plenty
    of ice cream and advice
    to give away

    because what else can I offer
    to all these frightened people
    who are just beginning to understand

    what it means
    to be a refugee
    without a home?


    DANIEL

    David says that removing my coat
    was the first step
    and accepting strange food
    was the second.

    Now, he wants me to plunge
    into the ocean.
    Others are doing it —
    all around me, refugees wade
    into the island's warm
    turquoise sea.

    David insists that I must learn
    how to swim, if I want to cool off
    on hot days.

    He speaks to me with his hands dancing
    and his voice musical, just like the islanders
    who sound like chattering
    wild birds.

    I find the old man's company
    comforting in some ways
    and troubling in others.

    He is still Russian, still Jewish,
    but he talks like a completely
    new sort of person,
    one without memories
    to treasure.


    DANIEL

    The city of Havana is never quiet.
    Sleep is impossible — there are always
    the drums of passing footsteps
    and the horns of traffic
    and choirs of dogs barking;
    an orchestra of vendors singing
    and neighbors laughing
    and children fighting. ...

    Today, when I ventured out by myself,
    one beggar sang to me
    and another handed me a poem
    in a language I cannot read,
    and there was an old woman
    who cursed me because I could not
    give her a coin.

    Some words can be understood
    without knowing
    the language.

    I lie awake, hour after hour,
    remembering the old woman's anger
    along with my own.


    DANIEL

    Perhaps it is true,
    as my father used to say,
    that languages
    do not matter as much
    to musicians
    as to other people.

    My grandfather was always
    able to communicate
    with violinists from other countries
    by playing the violin,

    and when a French pianist
    visited our house, my parents spoke
    to him with sonatas,

    and when an Italian cellist
    asked me a question,
    I answered him
    with my flute.


    DANIEL

    All I want to do is lose myself
    in dreams of home,

    but the Cuban girl who brings food
    keeps asking me questions
    in Spanish.

    I try to silence her
    by drumming my hands
    against the trunks of trees and vines
    in the courtyard
    of this crazy,
    noisy shelter.

    My impatient rhythm is answered
    by cicadas and crickets.

    If I could speak Spanish,
    I would remind the girl
    that I am not here in Cuba
    by choice.

    I have nothing to say
    to any stranger who treats me
    like a normal person
    with a family
    and a home.


    DANIEL

    Weeks at sea
    introduced me to a new
    kind of music,

    endless and constant,
    sung by a voice of air and water,
    a voice of nature so enormous
    that it can be ridden by humans
    in tiny vessels —
    our huge ships as small as toys
    from the point of view
    of an ocean wave.

    There was also the music
    of moaning masses —
    babies shrieking, mothers weeping,
    and sailors howling
    wolflike

    as they sang
    their hideous
    Nazi songs.


    DANIEL

    The girl gives me an orange.
    I cannot bring myself to eat it
    because, at home, oranges
    are precious.

    One orange was a treasure
    in Germany, in winter.

    My mother would place the golden fruit
    at the center of our dining-room table,
    and we would gather around
    to gaze and marvel,

    inhaling the fragrance
    of warm climates
    like that of the Holy Land.


    DANIEL

    The orange in my hand
    looks like a sun
    and smells like heaven.

    I cannot believe my ears
    when David tells me to peel
    the radiant fruit
    and eat all the juicy sections
    by myself.

    He says there are so many
    oranges in Cuba
    that I can eat my fill every day
    for the rest of my life.

    I glare at David,
    hoping he will see
    that I am different.

    I am not like him.
    I have no intention
    of giving up hope.

    I will not spend my life
    here in Cuba
    with strangers.

    I close my fist
    around the orange,
    refusing to swallow
    anything so sacred.


    PALOMA

    Germans were in my house last night.
    Not refugees, but the other Germans,
    the ones who cause all the trouble
    that forces refugees to flee.

    Papá made me stay in my room.
    He sent all the servants home early.
    He did not whisper
    but spoke in his loud, laughing voice,
    the one he uses when he knows
    that he is getting rich.

    I sneaked onto the stairway
    and heard a few fragments
    of the German visitors' plan,
    something about showing the world
    that even a small tropical island like Cuba
    wants nothing to do
    with helping Jews.


    EL GORDO

    Business is business.
    Why should I care
    about Nazis or Jews?

    I find money for my fat wallet
    any way I can.

    Business is busyness.
    A busy life wards off the evil eye
    of sadness.

    My daughter knows nothing
    about business or evil eyes.

    She's just a child
    who hides in a tower
    with wild doves.


    DAVID

    The radio and magazines
    are filled with hateful lies.

    Cuba's newspaper pages are covered
    with ugly cartoons about Jews.

    Where do the lies come from —
    who dreams up the insults
    that make ordinary people
    sound like beasts
    and feel like sheep
    in a forest
    of wolves?


    DANIEL

    Today, a ship
    left Havana Harbor.

    Desperate relatives
    of the people on the ship
    rowed out in small boats,
    calling up to the decks
    where their loved ones
    leaned over the railings,
    reaching. ...

    One man hurled himself
    overboard.

    Was he trying
    to drown himself,
    or was he hoping
    that he could somehow
    swim to shore?

    I picture the German sailors
    laughing, and spitting in faces
    while they point to the posters of Hitler
    in the dining room.

    I feel the terror
    of the refugees
    as they realize

    that they are being sent back
    to Europe.


    DANIEL

    Where will the ship go?
    What will happen to refugees
    who find no refuge?

    I cannot bring myself
    to imagine the fate
    of all those people,
    all the children
    who traveled alone
    just as I did.

    Each time I try to picture
    my own future,
    I feel just as helpless
    as the children
    on the ship.

    Will those children
    ever find
    a home?


    DANIEL

    I stand in a crowd
    on the docks,
    watching the ship
    as it grows smaller
    and vanishes
    over the horizon.

    There is nothing to do now,
    nothing but drumming
    on the earth
    with my feet
    and pounding out a rhythm
    in the air
    with my fingers.

    I feel so powerless.
    All I can do
    is talk to the sky
    with my hands

    and wonder how
    any country
    can turn a ship away,
    knowing that it is filled
    with human beings
    searching for something
    as simple
    as hope.


    PALOMA

    What would my father do
    if he knew that I am one
    of many young Cuban volunteers
    who help los Cuáqueros, the Quakers
    from North America
    who come here to Cuba
    to care for the refugees,
    offering food
    and shelter?

    Which would bother my father more —
    knowing that I am helping Jews
    or seeing me in the company
    of Protestants?


    DANIEL

    The green-eyed girl
    turns her face away
    when she serves our meals
    of yellow rice
    and black beans.

    I cannot tell
    whether she is sad
    or ashamed.

    David explains that Paloma
    is not her true name.
    She is really María Dolores,
    "Mary of Sorrows,"
    but everyone calls her Paloma, "the Dove"
    because she often hides
    in a tower
    in her garden,
    a tower built
    as a home
    for wild birds.

    No one seems to know
    why she feels
    the need
    to hide.


    PALOMA

    I sneak out
    of my room
    at night.

    I creep through
    the garden, and up
    into the dovecote.

    I sleep
    surrounded
    by wings.


    EL GORDO

    Paloma is not my daughter.
    My child is María Dolores.

    Paloma is just a fantasy name
    the girl dreamed up
    to help herself forget
    her mother's treachery.

    Until my wife ran away
    with a foreigner, our daughter
    was content to live in a house
    instead of a dovecote.


    DANIEL

    I rest in the open patio,
    a crazy place shared
    with so many
    other refugees.

    I am getting used to sleeping
    in a house filled with strangers
    and trees.

    I am not the only young person
    unlucky enough to end up alone
    in this crowd.

    The nights are as hot as the days.
    Glowing insects flash like flames,
    and a pale green moth
    the size of my hand
    floats above my head
    like a ghost.

    Sometimes I feel
    like a ghost
    myself.


    DANIEL

    Tonight, I cannot sleep.
    I listen to the chirping
    of tree frogs

    and the clacking beaks
    of wild parrots

    and music, always music,
    the rhythms of rattling maracas
    and goatskin drums

    even here, in the city,
    where one would expect
    to hear only sirens, buses,
    and the radios of neighbors
    broadcasting news
    about Germany.

    Sometimes I wish
    I was not learning Spanish
    so easily — then I would not
    understand all the lies
    about Jews.


    PALOMA

    In the morning
    I walk past the brightly
    painted houses of Havana —
    lime green, canary yellow,
    and sapphire blue.

    The houses
    look like songbirds.
    I picture them rising
    up into the sky
    and fluttering away.

    With each step
    I ask myself questions.
    What would Papá be like
    if my mother had not
    sailed away
    with a dancing man
    from Paris?

    Is she still there?
    Did she marry the dancer?
    Do they have children?
    Are there brothers and sisters
    who ask questions about me?

    I do not ask myself anything
    about the start of a war
    in Europe — I do not want to know
    if my mother
    is dead.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Tropical Secrets by Margarita Engle. Copyright © 2009 Margarita Engle. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

June 1939,
July 1939,
December 1941,
April 1942,
Historical Note,
Author's Note,
Acknowledgments,

Reading Group Guide

1. Daniel refers to the Night of Crystal, also called the Night of Broken Glass. What happened? Was it just in one place or many? How do you think Daniel escaped this night?

2. Daniel's ship is refused in both the United States and Canada before heading to Havana, Cuba. Do some research. Why were German refugees refused entry to the United States at this time? Do you think the same thing would happen today?

3. At first Daniel refuses to give up his heavy coat. What could the coat symbolize for Daniel?

4. Daniel's parents tell him they will meet him at the Statue of Liberty in NY. Even if his parents made it out of Germany, how difficult do you think this might be? Are there any stories of families reuniting after the end of the war?

5. On page 32 Daniel writes, "Some words can be understood/without knowing/the language." What does he mean? Give an example from something outside of this book.

6. Music threads through the book. How is music a universal language? Why is it important to Daniel?

7. Daniel decides, "that improvising/is the music/for me." He refers to "decimar" on page 109. How does this fit Daniel and his life? What style would be yours?

8. David says, "I was taught that questions/are just as important as answers." What does he mean? How does that relate to what is happening in Europe at the time of the novel?

9. The novel is told in free verse. Write a poem from the point of view of the new young Daniel who the elder Daniel chooses to mentor.

10. The characters in the book are invented, although the history is true. A variety of real people/companies/places are mentioned. Choose one and find out more information and see if they really were in Cuba at this time. Hershey chocolate company, Ernest Hemingway, Ernesto Lucuona, or Isla de Pinos.

11. On page 117, Daniel writes about, "… a strange/twist of fate." What does he mean? Try to relate this idea to something in your experience.

12. Paloma helps the refuges in a variety of ways. Why do you think she risks the wrath of her father to do this?

13. Why do you think Paloma likes her birds so much? What do they represent?

14. Cuba's climate is mentioned several times in the book. Find out what you can about the geography and climate of Cuba. Is it portrayed accurately in the book?

15. Why was Cuba worried about Nazi spies? Were any Nazi spies ever found in Cuba during WWII?

16. Write an epilog telling where Daniel and Paloma are and what they are doing in ten years.

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Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
smclawler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Told in verse with four voices, Margarita Engle¿s Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba (Henry Holt, 2009) is based on the exploitation encountered by Jews as they flee Nazi controlled Europe, and the problems of adapting to their new environment. Exorbitant fees were charged for passage on these ships and disembarkation was not guaranteed without additional fees. Cuba, the setting for this story, actually took in a higher proportion of Jews than the United States. Daniel has fled Europe alone, and after his vessel was denied entry to the US, the ship finally docked in Cuba. He meets Paloma, the daughter of El Gordo, a Cuban whose wealth is based on the fees collected from Jews who wish to disembark. Paloma secretly works to help ease the transition of the refugees. All is new-the climate, the plants, the animals, the clothes, the language, and the food. Together Paloma and Daniel befriend David, a former refugee from Russia, who has been in Cuba for many years. This fictional work is a nice companion to Engle¿s The Surrender Tree (Henry Holt, 2008), the Newbery honor winner that chronicles Cuba¿s wars of independence from Spain.
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At the beginning of World War II, Daniel's family only has the money for one passage out of Germany and his parents decide he should take it. They promise to meet up with him in New York as soon as they can get out. When the ship is rejected by the United States and Canada, Daniel ends up in Cuba, befriending Paloma, a Cuban girl with secrets. It's a very interesting topic for a book and WWII is a popular topic among middle-graders. I'm just not that into novels in verse - I can think of a select few that I have enjoyed. I think I would have enjoyed this novel more if it had been a prose story. It was hard for me to identify with the characters when we just see them in the small snippets of poems. I wouldn't hesitate to hand this to fans of novels in verse, though, and there are plenty of them out there.
skstiles612 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a historical novel told in poetic form. I enjoyed it as much as I did her book ¿The Surrender Tree¿. I didn¿t know this part of history until I had read the book. The story is about Daniel, a Jew from Germany. His parents have taken all of their money and purchased a ticket for him to America. What none of them can know is that America has been denying access to the refuges. The ships are then sent on to Cuba. If Cuba denies them then they are sent back to Europe with the prospect of being sent to a concentration camp. Daniel is one of the lucky ones allowed to disembark in Cuba. He makes friends with Paloma. She discovers her fathers is an evil and crooked Cuban official. She lives in her dovecote with her birds to stay away from him. Daniel meets people along the way who help him learn to live not just survive. He also helps hide people during this time. This is a very emotional book. You feel for Daniel¿s parents and realize the depth of their love for him. This is a book that will definitely go on my shelves for my students. I think this should be required reading in History classes.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got this book from the library but have to get a real paper copy for myself because I need to pass this one around. This has to be one my top 5 reads for the year. It's a book written in verse about a 13 year old Jewish boy whose parents manage to get him out of Germany in 1939 on a refugee ship bound for America. The ship was refused entry into both the US and Canada but, after paying bribes, refugees were allowed into Cuba. Only such simple, beautiful poetry could express so clearly what Daniel has left behind in Germany. Speaking of kristallnacht:"How can hatred havesuch a beautiful name?Crystal should be clear,but on that dark nightthe glass of broken windowsdid not glitter."Adjusting to a new land:"I am not accustomed to buildingswith trees and flowers at the centerand a view of open skyright in the middle of the housewhere one would expect to finda stone fireplaceand sturdy brick walls....here I amin the sweaty tropics, struggling to breathe humid air that feels as thick as the steamfrom a pot of my mother'sfragrant tea."He meets a young girl named Paloma who loves birds and lives with her enterprising father El Gordo, named not for his girth but for the girth of his wallet. He is one deciding how much money in bribes will be necessary to allow refugees to land instead of being sent back to death in Europe. She secretly gives Daniel cool clothing meant for her tropical island rather than the warm German clothing he came with:"and I give him one of my father'smany fine Panama hats,an expensive jipijapa hat,cool and comfortablelike a splendid circle of shadefrom a portable tree."They meet David, an older refugee from Russia who talks about a time when Carnival was "cancelled when a Cuban official decidedthe dances were too African,too tribal...but outlawing dance in Cubais like trying to hide the sun with one finger."Paloma describes the peace doves she is allowed to keep:"the peace doves are far too trustingto survive in the wildwhere hungry catspursue them."There's lots of poetry about making music because Daniel comes from a musical family and loves making music himself with anything he has at hand from instruments made out of pots and pans or turtle shells to a donated guitar. He participates in Carnival with Paloma, but feels guilty when he finds it is a religious holiday. He is constantly torn between his young man's urge to celebrate life and his awareness of the evils of some humans and the yearning for peace and to be reunited with his family.This is a book you can easily read in an hour but will want to draw out as long as possible
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago