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The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom

by Margarita Engle

Published by Henry Holt, 2008
176 pages
ISBN: 9780805086744

Age 12 and older

Rosa is a slave until the day in her young womanhood when her owner frees her to fight for Cuba’s independence from Spain. “Should I fight with weapons / or flowers and leaves?” asks Rosa the healer. She chooses flowers, and with her husband José and others she sets up hospitals in the jungle to treat the sick and the wounded. Across three wars in the struggle for a free land, Rosa sees slavery abolished in Cuba, and then concentration camps established by the Spanish government. Through it all she treats the hurt and heartache of war. When Spain finally surrenders, it is not to the Cuban fighters, but to the Americans: “as the Spanish flag is lowered . . . the American flag glides upward. / Our Cuban flag is still forbidden.” Cuban American poet Margarita Engle spans almost fifty years as she transforms nineteenth-century Cuban history into a vivid story.. Almost all of the speakers in Engle’s multiple voice narrative are based on the lives of real individuals—characters who speak to the arrogance and cruelty of conquest and the yearning desire to be free. At the center is a woman who was named Rosario Castellanos Castellanos, or Rosa la Bayamesa. Facts about her life and individuals who voice the poems, as well as additional information about Cuba’s quest for independence, are detailed in the author’s note and timeline concluding this stirring account. (MS) ©2008 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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