WOW Review Volume II Issue 3

Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom
Written by Margarita Engle
Holt, 2008, 176 pp.
ISBN: 9780805086744

“I think of all the others who went before me in all three wars, curing the wounded, healing the sick, nameless women, forgotten now, their voices and hands just part of the forest, whispering like pale yagruma leaves in a dream. On hot days, even the shade from a yagruma leaf offers soothing medicine, the magic of one quiet moment of peace” (p.116).

This quote offers a glimpse into the powerful voices situated within the historical adolescent novel, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom. This novel is written by Margarita Engle and vividly depicts a personal picture of Cuba’s three decade long struggle for independence from Spain. Poetic verse and sporadic Spanish prose frames the characters, who serve as the narrators of the story. The author begins the story with a brief personal note, explaining that the author’s grandparents were refugees from this time period.

The author uses her personal knowledge and research to create strong and believable characters by providing them with compelling voices. These historical voices portray the lives of people struggling to survive during a period of three wars and corruption. Rosa is the courageous heroine, who uses her gift of healing with plants to restore the health of her people and even her enemies. Lieutenant Death, soldier and slave catcher spends his life tracking and hunting Rosa. He is dedicated to destroying Rosa and her influence. He is continually perplexed by Rosa’s willingness to heal everyone regardless of the person’s nationalism and status. Lieutenant Death is fueled by hatred instilled by his father and becomes consumed in defeating her persistence.

The trees represent the end of violent wars and the beginning of freedom in the story. The obstacles of life will come to an end; the hard work will grow into something beautiful. If one looks close enough in the trees, one will see Lieutenant Death, patiently waiting on Rosa.

Margarita Engle is the 2009 winner of the Pura Belpré Author Award and Newberry Honor. She has written Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Merian (2010), The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba (2010), Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba (2009), and The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano (2006). All are published by Holt.

Additional novels that complement the themes of identity and overcoming adversity include: The Day of the Pelican (Katherine Patterson, 2009), The Color of My Words (Lynn Joseph, 2001), Call Me Maria (Judith Ortiz Cofer, 2006), and City Boy (Jan Michael, 2009). Picture books include Silent Music (James Rumford, 2009), The Composition (Antonio Skarmeta & Alfonso Ruano, 2003), and The Lost Thing (Shaun Tan, 2008).

Jeanne Gilliam Fain, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN
Roxanna Jaiswal, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN

WOW Review, Volume II, Issue 3 by Worlds of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on work at