akibird

A Blog of Children's Literature

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom April 18, 2011

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for FreedomThe Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle (2008)

Novel in Verse, 158 pages

A Newberry Honor Book and the winner of the Pura Belpré Award, The Surrender Tree captures the struggles of Rosa Castellanos Castellanos, or Rosa la Bayamesa, the former slave turned herbal healer who takes care of the sick and wounded during Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain. Broken into five parts, the story begins around the time Rosa is freed from her owner but still must run from slavehunters who work for the Spanish Crown which does not recognize the slaves’ freedom. The slavehunter Lieutenant Death, as evil as his name implies, has an eye out specifically for Rosa because of her ability to slip out of his sight right before her capture. The poetry documents the next fifty years of Cuba’s history, most of which Rosa and the other rebels must hide from Spanish rule and slavehunters in makeshift hospitals in caves and the jungle. Rosa’s empathic soul and commitment to her oath of healing shine through all she does, including treating Lieutenant Death and injured enemy Spanish soldiers. Peasants who were not able to escape were forced to leave their homes and move into the world’s first “reconcentration camps,” a decree by Captain-General Weyler. In alternating voices, the reader hears the perspective of Rosa, her husband José, Captain-General Weyler, Lieutenant Death, and Silva, a reconcentration camp escapee. To avoid confusion, each poem is titled with the name of its speaker. In her short but stirring verse, Margarita Engle draws on the emotions of a war-torn country through the hearts of all those involved, exemplifying the pain, courage, frustration, determination, and exhaustion war brings. While the author takes some liberties with characters’ words since there are holes in the recorded history of Cuba’s Wars for Independence, The Surrender Tree is a great addition to young adult lessons on the history of Cuba with its more personal accounts of guerilla warfare.

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