by Margarita Engle
Based on the author's own childhood, this poetic memoir recounts summers spent with her mother's extended family in Cuba, until 1960, when everything changed. Revolution. Communism. The Cuban Missile Crisis.
Engle's descriptions of the Cuban landscape -- the air, the land, the food -- is truly enchanting. It definitely makes me want to visit Cuba! Her feelings of being torn between the two places, of wondering where she belongs, of longing for family are beautifully conveyed and ones that many children (immigrants, refugees, or Americans from various backgrounds) will be able to relate to. On what would be the last childhood visit, a yet to be born foal is designated as belonging to Margarita and her older sister. A horse she only gets to see in a photograph. (as a horse lover as a child, this episode struck a particularly emotional chord with me!).
A few favorite excerpts:
From "What Am I?"
At school, all the teachers and students
seem angered by Cuba.
WHAT ARE YOU?
It's a question that requires fractions,
and I don't like math.
Do I have to admit
that I"m half Cuban and half American,
or should I go even further, and explain that Dad's parents were born in the Ukraine,
part of Soviet Russia?
Or am I just entirely American,
all the fractions left behind
by immigration from faraway nations?
The ugliness of war photos
and the uncertainty of TV news
join the memory of FBI questions
to make me feel like climbing into
my own secret world.
Books are enchanted. Books help me travel.
Books help me breathe.
When I climb a tree, I take a book with me.
When I walk home from school, I carry
my own poems, inside my mind,
where no one else
can reach the worlds
that are entirely
And isn't the cover image by Edel Rodriguez amazing?
Reading the World: Cuba