Songs for freedom,
words as power –
freedom from Spain, from slavery?
Did you know about Chinese immigrants who fled to Cuba, escaping racist attacks in America? They struggled for freedom from unfair indenture alongside enslaved Africans during the days when Cuba sought its independence from Spain – so many stories forgotten, lost, found, retold.
Could you leave your homeland for safety, then leave again?
Book info: Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words / Margarita Engle. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, hardcover 2016, paperback 2017. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.
My book talk: At the confluence of Cuban, Chinese, and African cultures, poetic voices of three young people tell the stories of arrival and broken promises, despair and hope, love and the future during their island home’s early years as a nation.
To learn the proper Spanish that his Chinese mother never knew, Antonio’s African father sends him to school in La Habana city.
As he runs errands within the Chinese community for wealthy men displaced from California by anti-Asian prejudice in the post-Gold Rush years, the 12 year old meets twin sister and brother Fan and Wing.
Antonio hears stories of unfairness and change, falls in love with words, wonders if they have true power.
Fan runs away from the sugarcane fields, from forced marriage – to sing and write songs and sing true.
Wing remembers being forced from their California home, wants to help the rebels in Cuba’s mountains.
Months roll into years as the three young people help hide escaped slaves, read letters of protest sent to China and Madrid, long for power over their own lives.
Lyrically, poetically, alternating voices relate the struggles of indentured Chinese workers and enslaved African people fighting for their freedom in the 1870s as Cuba strives for independence from Spain.