The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle
Engle, Margarita. The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom. Henry Holt & Company, 2008. 176 pages. Tr. $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8050-8674-4.
Annotation: This book, written in free verse prose, sheds a personal light on Cuba’s three wars for independence from Spain between the years 1850-1899. The story in verse follows alternating voices including Rosa, a healer, Jose, a freed slave, Silvia, a refugee child, and Lieutenant Death, a slave hunter and soldier.
Summary: This novel in verse alternately follows four central characters as they are involved in various struggles with Cuba’s three wars for independence from Spain between the years 1850-1899. The most prominent voice is Rosa, a traditional healer, who nurses all people- blacks, whites, Cuban, and Spanish back to health during the fifty year struggle. Despite living her life on the lam, she uses herbal medicine she makes from the native plants and sets up hospitals in caves and other hidden places. The second voice is Rosa’s husband, Jose, who is a freed slave that assists Rosa in tending to the sick and dying. The third voice is that of Silvia, a refugee child who Rosa teaches the art of healing. The final voice is that of Lieutenant Death, a slave hunter and callous soldier who is obsessed with hunting down slaves and trying to kill the heroine Rosa. The story follows the struggle of slavery and the sadness involved with the concentration camps that bring starvation, disease, and death. But the story also shows the hope in Cuba’s quest for freedom. The healing kindness that Rose, Jose, and Silvia show to others touches people and changes lives.
Evaluation: With simple, short lines of prose the story is easy to follow and well-written. There is a Cuban flavor to the language with a sprinkling of Spanish words. The free verse poems vary in length and style and together construct a compelling narrative that offers an authentic-feeling glance into the Cuban history. Recommended for ages 10-17.
Genre / Subject: Juvenile Non-Fiction, Poetry, Cuba, History, Independence, Racism, Survival
Awards: 2009 Pura Belpre Award Winner, 2009 Newbery Medal Honor Book, 2009 ALA Notable Books for Children, 2009 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Winner – Books for Older Children, 2009 ALA Best Books for Young Adults