The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom Paperback – Mar 16 2010
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“Engle writes her new book in clear, short lines of stirring free verse. Caught by the compelling narrative voices, many readers will want to find out more.” ―Booklist, Starred Review
“A powerful narrative in free verse . . . haunting.” ―The Horn Book
“Hauntingly beautiful, revealing pieces of Cuba's troubled past through the poetry of hidden moments.” ―School Library Journal
“Young readers will come away inspired by these portraits of courageous ordinary people.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“The poems are short but incredibly evocative.” ―Voice of Youth Advocates
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 Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. The Surrender Tree was a Newbery Honor Book. She lives in northern California.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This verse novel is based on actual events and people, and it follows Rosa's life from 1850 to 1899. Even when they were pursued by her enemies, Rosa and her husband Jose never stopped helping others. Jose and a few other supporting characters, such as a little girl named Silvia, step in from time to time to share a poem, but Rosa is the driving force behind the story. We could all learn something from her selflessness and determination.
-Lindsey Miller, [...]
The audiobook version ruins the book. The main reader for the character of Rosa mispronounces Spanish words and is very monotone. Unless you want to discourage children from listening to audiobooks, steer them far away from this edition towards the print version of the book.
Part of my initial hesitancy stemmed from the difficulty I imagined would present itself for a teacher using a verse novel in the classroom--unfortunately, for many students poetry can be difficult and intimidating. Yet, I soon realized that Engle's use of verse to tell the story was actually quite brilliant. The verse form serves to make the story much more accessible to young adult readers. For one, the pages aren't visually overwhelming. Each page is devoted to one poem told from one person's point of view. This also makes the story easy to follow and the characters easy to track, students always know who is speaking. All of this creates a superficial simplicity that allows students to become easily engaged in a more complex narrative experience. Once engaged, students can take in the story of Rosa, the freed slave who worked to heal the injured in all three of Cuba's wars for independence. They see everything unfold as Engle's writing paints vibrant pictures of what life was like during this historical period. They are introduced to Cuban slavery, pre World War II concentration camps, and early U.S. involvement in Cuba.
Some have critiqued the novel for leaving the reader feeling incomplete, others for the seeming fading in and out of characters, with no real closure or explanation. While, I didn't particularly feel that way, I have to wonder if any sense of incompleteness was intentional. It's a story of a country torn apart by three different wars for independence over a period of 30 years. Lives are lost and people disappear, uprooted by the fighting and war, often times closure is never found. And, in fact, I don't think Cuba found closure at the end of the last war. Despite 30 years of war, the Cuban flag could still not be flown. In the words of José--"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" (p. 156).
While it may not be a book most students would pick up on their own, I think many students would really like it if it was used in the classroom. For teachers, it's an opportunity to introduce students to novels written in verse. It allows students a more sustained period of time to get comfortable reading in verse that poems often don't. The novel could quite easily be converted to a Reader's Theatre activity, having individual students `act out' the parts by reading a specific character's poems. The content is engaging--at times the descriptions offered are gruesome--all the more interesting to students because it is a story based upon real events and real people.
Check out our free Educator's Guide for the book at our wordpress blog Vamos a Leer.
Engle is a gifted writer and her use of imagery is particularly affecting. I could feel the steamy heat of the jungle and smell the ajiaco stew. Each word is carefully selected and holds the reader in its grasp:
"...My greatest fear is of being useless,
so I pierce and drain infected wounds
with the thorns of bitter orange trees,
and I treat the sores of smallbox
with the juice of boiled yams.
I use the perfumed leaves
of bay rum trees
to mask the scent
Rosa is a heroine worth studying. Engle portrays her as brave, tireless, principled, and wise. She takes her role as a nurse seriously and will treat enemy soldiers with the same care that she treats the Cubans, often causing them to convert to her cause. I hope that Cuban-American girls are learning about this powerful cultural figure because she is the strongest role model I have come across in awhile.
Towards the end of the book, a young girl named Silvia is introduced and the interplay between Rosa and Lieutenant Death wanes. I wish that their narration could have continued, although I appreciate that Silvia represents the future, a character who will carry on Rosa's ideals.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. Please add it to your libraries and place it in as many hands as you can.
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