The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedomby Margarita Engle
Grade 9 Up—Often, popular knowledge of Cuba begins and ends with late-20th-century textbook fare: the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Fidel Castro. The Surrender Tree, however, transports readers to another, though no less tumultuous, era. Spanning the years 1850–1899, Engle's poems construct a narrative woven around the nation's Wars for Independence. The poems are told in alternating voices, though predominantly by Rosa, a "freed" slave and natural healer destined to a life on the lam in the island' s wild interior.
Other narrators include Teniente Muerte, or Lieutenant Death, the son of a slave hunter turned ruthless soldier; José, Rosa's husband and partner in healing; and Silvia, an escapee from one of Cuba's reconcentration camps. The Surrender Tree is hauntingly beautiful, revealing pieces of Cuba's troubled past through the poetry of hidden moments such as the glimpse of a woman shuttling children through a cave roof for Rosa's care or the snapshot of runaway Chinese slaves catching a crocodile to eat. Though the narrative feels somewhat repetitive in its first third, one comes to realize it is merely symbolic of the unending cycle of war and the necessity for Rosa and other freed slaves to flee domesticity each time a new conflict begins.
Aside from its considerable stand-alone merit, this book, when paired with Engle's The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano (Holt, 2006), delivers endless possibilities for discussion about poetry, colonialism, slavery, and American foreign policy.
“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." — 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.” — VOYA
About the Author
MARGARITA ENGLE is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She lives with her husband in northern California.