Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review: Tropical Secrets by Margarita Engle

After a positive experience with Because I Am Furniture, when I discovered I'd picked up another novel-in-verse format, I didn't immediately groan. Hey, maybe the genre really has grown since I first discovered it in high school, and the poetry really can work!

Mmm, maybe not.

Tropical Secrets follows four people in late 1930s-early 1940s Cuba: Daniel, David, Paloma and El Gordo (Paloma's father). The story begins in June 1939, when Daniel flees Germany after crystalnacht. He leaves his parents behind in Germany with the promise to meet again in New York City - but Daniel's ship is turned away from New York, and several other potential ports; the only place that will accept a boat full of German Jewish refugees is Cuba.

In Cuba, Daniel meets Paloma, a local girl, and David, himself a Jewish refugee, though one that's been in Cuba for years. El Gordo makes occasional appearances as a local criminal who sells visas to the desperate refugees: if they can't afford his prices, they are sent back on the boat, sent directly back to the horrors of Germany.

The problem I have with this being a verse novel is that the poetry just never felt compelling - really it felt like chopped up prose. No poetry doesnt have to rhyme or anything, but isn't the point of poetry that it can convey feelings/images/"things" that prose just can't do (or would take hundreds of more words to)? This felt like basic prose sentences were chopped up and called poetry with very little re-dressing. It ends up being an extremely sparse novel when there is room for so much more.

This does, however, share a very interesting part of history, as many Jewish refugees did end up in Cuba. Nazi spies were sent to the island to stir up anti-semitism against the refugees so they would be sent back to Germany and end up in the concentration camps. Bonus points for that, but not enough for me to recommend the novel without hesitations.
Related Posts with Thumbnails