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STBA Blog Tour: Margarita Engle, Tropical Secrets


Welcome to the 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour!  I'm honored to be hosting Margarita Engle, author of Tropical Secrets:  Holocaust Refugees in Cuba (Henry Holt, 2009), at bookstogether today.  Tropical Secrets is this year's STBA winner in the Teen Readers category.

Anamaria Anderson (AA):  Congratulations and welcome to bookstogether, Margarita!

Margarita Engle (ME):  Thank you.  I am so deeply honored by the Sydney Taylor Award, and I am so grateful for this opportunity to speak about Tropical Secrets

AATropical Secrets is such an evocative title.  Would you share some of the secrets to which it refers (without, of course, giving any of them away)?

ME:  I feel very close to this title.  It springs from my own sense of wonder about the story.  There is a feeling of discovery.  I am fascinated by the safe harbor Jewish refugees found in Cuba, and in other Latin American countries as well.  I am particularly intrigued by the Cuban teenagers who volunteered to teach Spanish to the refugees.

AA:  How did you go about the research for this story?

ME:  I found the factual details in an amazing scholarly study called Tropical Diaspora, by Robert M. Levine.  Without the nonfiction accounts in that reference, I could not have written Tropical Secrets.  I am astonished that the history of Holocaust refugees in Cuba, and in Latin America as a whole, is not more familiar. 

AA:  I agree, Margarita.  The fictional characters of Tropical Secrets—Daniel, Paloma, David, and el Gordo—bring these unfamiliar historical events to life for your readers.  When did your characters, and their personal stories, begin to reveal themselves to you?

ME:  The characters and plot of Tropical Secrets came to me in a huge wave.  It was overwhelming.  I could barely scribble fast enough to keep up with the flow of words.  It was as if this story had been waiting to be told, and was searching for a home.

My mother is Cuban, and was raised Catholic.  My father is the American son of Ukrainian-Jewish refugees.  Tropical Secrets unites the diverse branches of my ancestry.

AA:  I think it found the perfect home.  What would you like your readers to take home from Tropical Secrets?

ME:  I wrote Tropical Secrets because I admire the resilience of refugees, and the generosity of those who help them.  This is a facet of Tropical Secrets that transcends all borders and eras.  It is true of natural disasters as well as manmade ones.  I simply wanted to pay homage to the idea of safe harbors and the kindness of strangers.

AA:  That facet of Tropical Secrets resonates especially clearly right now, in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti; and it is always worth remembering.

Thank you so much, Margarita, for these insights into your work, and congratulations again.  I look forward to your forthcoming books (The Firefly Letters and Summer Birds:  The Butterflies of Maria Merian, both 2010) and wish you all the best.

And thank all of you for stopping by the STBA Blog Tour!  Please be sure to visit the other stops on the tour today and later this week; and of course I hope you'll visit me at bookstogether anytime.

Reader Comments (9)

I'm so glad to find out more about this book! Thanks!

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermadelyn

Thank you so much. It is always interesting about the inspiration and research involved in crafting a story, especially about someone as talented as Maragarita Engle.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathe Pinchuck

I love how Margarita's passion for her topic and her characters comes through in this interview. Anamaria, thanks for hleping to kick off the Sydney Taylor Book Award blog tour!

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi Estrin

Thank you for sharing this terrific interview. Tropical Secrets is a wonderful book - a beautifully crafted story.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara Bietz

Margarita's passion and knowledge of Cuba and the history of this time period are evident from the first page to the last. Her artfully crafted words in Tropical Secrets invite us into a powerful story where characters are poetically and naturally revealed. Sure to engage children. Thanks for the interview.

Joan Schoettler

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoan Schoettler

I am happy to see the Jewish community of Cuba given more attention. Cuba was one of the few places in the world to provide Jews with refuge. I have visited Cuba several times, and have always been fascinated by the tenacity and fragility of this tiny group of mostly aging Jews. I look forward to reading this wonderful book and promoting it to the students of our school, many of whom have also visited Cuba without even realizing its Jewish connection.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Lustigman

Thank you for sharing such an important part of our collective story!!!

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRivster

read tropical secrets on free-books.us

February 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersilviul

I found this short tale engaging. It offers another view of the Holocaust which I believe students will want to read. Eighth graders will read Night by Elie Wiesel and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

February 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

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