"THE SURRENDER TREE: POEMS OF CUBA'S STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM" BY MARGARITA ENGLE
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Cuba's revolutionary struggle erupted on Oct. 10, 1868. Men of color were freed and placed in local positions of authority. Slaves were now soldiers and free men regarded them as citizens. Three anti-colonial rebellions followed during the next 30 years: The Ten Years' War; the Guerra Chiquita or "Little War;" and the final War of Independence which ended the Spanish-American War. Racism was condemned and unity among light-skinned and dark-skinned citizens became a stepping stone toward a free and independent Cuba.
The dream of Cuban independence sparked both hope and resistance, so it seems fitting that the bold mountains of Cuba were the backdrop for some of the most personal poetry ever written.
Author Margarita Engle composes refreshing and narrative stanzas that breathe life into written words. The strong voices of historical figures Rosa, Jose, Lieutenant Death, Imperial Spain's Captain-General Weyler and Silvia capture the tumultuous events of Cuba's war for independence from Spain. "The Surrender Tree" relies on imagery and original verse to bear witness to the gradual abolition of slavery.
After the raid,
I tend the wounds
Some look at me with fear,
others with hope.
Rosa, the cave nurse of Cuba, miraculously heals the wounds of war with roots and wildflowers, but she can do little to repair the souls of injured soldiers, women and children. Desperate, Lieutenant Death searches for "Rosa the Witch" in hopes of obtaining her ear as a trophy. Rosa goes undetected from her enemies in a well-hidden cave. She has an old gun for protection, but her true weapons are magical, healing hands.
Engle shares the legend of a sturdy tree with powerful roots: "The body of a captured slave is chopped into four pieces and displayed in four cages that hang from four branches. The belief by many slaves is that a chopped, caged spirit cannot fly away to a better place." A ceremonial surrender also takes place beneath the extended branches of a tree and the Cuban flag is forbidden. "The Americans have seized power."
Spain cedes power before our eyes.
We can only watch from far away
as the Spanish flag is lowered
and the American flag glides upward.
Our Cuban flag
is still forbidden.
Haunting stanzas illicit fear and bravery; hopelessness and hope; and defeat and victory. Engle discovers beauty and power in the moist rain forests of Cuba.
APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
The Surrender Tree
Listen to an excerpt from The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom
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"The Week's Most Talked About Book" is a weekly book review and literary criticism column that publishes every Friday. Selected titles are based on popularity, public opinion, research and observation. Questions, comments and suggestions should be sent to book lover and columnist Karla Mass at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is a content producer for McClatchy Interactive.