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Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba Hardcover – March 31, 2009


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 17 years
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 1170L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); First Edition edition (March 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805089365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805089363
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,195 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As in The Poet Slave of Cuba (2006) and The Surrender Tree (2008), both selected as Booklist Editors’ Choice titles, Engle’s latest book tells another story set in Cuba of those left out of the history books. In fluid, clear, free verse, two young people speak in alternating personal narratives. Daniel, 13, is a German Jewish refugee whose ship is finally allowed entry in Cuba after being turned away from both the U.S. and Canada. He longs to be reunited with his parents, who sent him away after Kristallnacht. Paloma, 12, discovers that her father is getting rich selling visas to refugees and then selling refugees to the Cuban authorities. She and Daniel help hide a Jewish woman and her Christian husband, who is suspected of being a Nazi spy. When adult narrators fill in background, the voices become diffused. But the international secrets make for a gripping story about refugees that becomes sharply focused through the viewpoint of the boy wrenched from home, haunted by the images of shattered glass and broken family. Grades 7-11. --Hazel Rochman

Review

Praise for Tropical Secrets:

“This book is an outstanding choice for young people of all reading skills. Reluctant readers will be encouraged by the open layout and brief text, and everyone will be captivated by the eloquent poems and compelling characters.”—School Library Journal, starred review

“Engle gracefully packs a lot of information into a spare and elegant narrative that will make this historical moment accessible to a wide range of readers.”—Publishers Weekly

“Engle’s tireless drive to give voice to the silenced in Cuban history provides fresh options for young readers.”--Kirkus Reviews

“As in The Poet Slave of Cuba (2006) and The Surrender Tree (2008), both selected as Booklist Editors’ Choice titles, Engle’s latest book tells another story set in Cuba of those left out of the history books. In fluid, clear, free verse, two young people speak in alternating personal narratives...the international secrets make for a gripping story about refugees that becomes sharply focused through the viewpoint of the boy wrenched from home, haunted by the images of shattered glass and broken family.”—Booklist

“This moving free-verse historical novel tells the tale of thirteen-year-old Daniel, a Jewish refugee who escapes Nazi Germany in 1939 in hopes of finding safety abroad…the emphasis on the inner life of the characters gives the narrative an emotional drama that transcends its period.”—BCCB

“Readers who think they might not like a novel in verse will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly and smoothly the story flows...The book will provide great fodder for discussion of the Holocaust, self-reliance, ethnic and religious bias, and more.”—VOYA


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Customer Reviews

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Now comes the most child-friendly of her novels.
E. R. Bird
This book is written from a very intimate perspective in that the characters each tell their own story as if they are speaking to the reader personally.
Charlie G.
Although the story has some action, it is mostly a novel of character.
Jewish Book World Magazine

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Book Lover 9 on January 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The unusual topic of the plight of Holocaust refugees is told from the perspective of several characters, each with a distinct voice. Engle's evocative language in this beautifully crafted story is an outstanding example of the novel in verse genre. Daniel is a young refugee who hopes to find his parents, but his sense of despair and lonliness as he arrives in Cuba is heartbreaking. His words pull the reader in from the fist page. Last year in Berlin, on the Night of Crystal, my grandfather was killed while I held his hand...How can hatred have such a beautiful name? Crystal should be clear, but on that night the glass of broken windows did not glitter. A reader cannot finish the page without a visceral response. Paloma is the daughter of a shipping Lord who controls the refugees and profits from their entry. She lives in the dovecoat of her castle, with the birds, sneakily helps the refugees, and longs for her mother who has abandoned the family. She befriends Daniel, along with David. David is also a Jewish refugee who has made a life selling ice cream in Cuba. Through their voices, the political dynamics of Cuba after the war are revealed. The backdrop of Cuban culture is also shared through descriptions of people, places, and cultural celebrations. With friendship and the passage of time, David begins to heal, and so does Paloma. This breathtaking book pays homage to refugees of Cuba and those who supported them. Not only will readers learn about a little discussed historical event, they will fully engage in a beautifully told story whose characters resonate long after the last page is read. - BARBARA BIETZ - OAK PARK, CA
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If children's authors were given superpowers upon the occasion of their first publication, I know what Margarita Engle's would be. Stealth. She's the kind of author you never see coming. You can pick up a book of hers, be it "The Poet Slave of Cuba" or "The Surrender Tree" and you'll never see her wordplay coming. She plays fair, of course. From page one onward you see exactly what you're getting yourself into, sometimes as early as the first line. What you took to be the poor man's version of a novel (the verse novel sometimes fails to get the appropriate amount of respect it deserves) instead has taken a board with a nail in it and is now systematically whacking you in the heart with its text. In the case of Ms. Engle, Cuba serves as her muse, and not in the way you might expect (see: Castro). Through her books kids are learning about historical aspects of Cuba that you simply cannot find anywhere else in juvenile lit. She's already tackled slavery in "The Poet Slave of Cuba" and the war of independence from Spain "The Surrender Tree". Now comes the most child-friendly of her novels. Don't mistake the term "child-friendly" with "simplistic", though. Perhaps the best plotted and conceived of her novels, Engle writes her most touching tribute to Cuba yet. As a place where all people with an inclination have found their own true home.

He was meant to wind up in New York. That was the plan.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Charlie G. on March 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is written from a very intimate perspective in that the characters each tell their own story as if they are speaking to the reader personally. I was a little surprised at first, when I opened the book, because it seemed as though it was more a book of poetry than a book of history. It is both. Beautifully written in elegant prose, this story could only have been told by someone who had experienced these events firsthand. I absolutely loved it and will go back and read it again. I usually give books away after I read them. Not this one; it is a keeper! I thank the author for giving us such a treasure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jewish Book World Magazine on April 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Very little has been written about the Holocaust refugees who, denied entry to the United States and other countries, found refuge in Cuba. This book uses poetry to tell the story of one such escapee from Nazi Germany who lands in Cuba with nothing but his woollen coat and winter clothes. A beautiful young girl helps him to acclimate to the island life style, but she has her own reasons to want to escape. Daniel shares his fear of the horrors he left behind and his reluctance to embrace the island life through a series of poems in his voice. Paloma tells her story in poetry also as she tries to help Daniel and the other refugees despite the fact that her father is "El Gordo," the man who is keeping the other refugee ships from landing and who is threatening to send the refugees already in Cuba back to Germany. David, an old man who came to Cuba from Russia, and who is Jewish like Daniel, helps the two children as they learn to share their feelings and overcome their fears.
The poems are haunting in their imagery and honesty. Each character speaks with a distinctive voice. Although the story has some action, it is mostly a novel of character. The reader gets to know each character and watch as Daniel and Paloma change and grow. This book is highly recommended for middle school and high school students who want a different Holocaust story. A historical note at the end of the book puts the actual historical events in a context that will help young readers relate to the events in the story. For ages 12 and up. Susan Dubin
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