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Friday, September 23, 2011

Hurricane Dancers, written by Margarita Engle. Henry Holt, 2011. $19.50 ages 12 and up

""If only my own
rising fear
of this howling storm
and the pirate's fury
and Ojeda's screams
could be calmed
by a remedy
as simple
as music."

As a consummate fan of everything that Margartia Engle writes, I can say that I continue to be 'wowed' by her work. In this beautifully written tale of the first pirate shipwreck in the Caribbean in the late 1500s, she introduces characters who will not soon be forgotten.

Quebrado is a slave on pirate ship, treated abominably by the pirate captain Bernardino de Talavera. He is the child of a Taino mother and a Spanish father, and has a foot in both of their worlds. He speaks both languages which will hold him in good stead when the ship flounders and sinks from the force of the wild hurricane winds.

The ship also has an important hostage on board, Alonso de Ojeda. He is a callous and cruel conquistador, whose past sins continue to haunt him. He wants desperately to find a way out of captivity and hopes that the shipwreck might afford him the chance he needs to make his escape.  Quebrado is saved from certain death by the young fisherman Narido. He finds a place for himself with the island people. He feels safe with them and begins to think of his life as he lived it before slavery. Unfortunately, both Bernardino and Ojeda also survive the cruel seas and eventually find 'their' slave.

Their story is told in five strong, singular voices...each providing a personal perspective on the events as they occur. As happens with poetry, word choice is paramount. So much is told and so eloquently in mostly page-long entries:

"I pull the storm-boy
toward a sandy beach,
and when he cries out
with gratitude,
his odd words
sound like echoes
of my own
human tongue."

As the reader we feel everything...the terror, the pain, the intense love that Narido feels for Caucubu and the hope that is in Quebrado's heart despite his many horrendous life experiences. While there is darkness, there is also light. It is a magical read, and I encourage you to find this engaging and uplifting book.

"I no longer feel
like Quebrado,
a broken place,
half floating isle
and half
wandering wind.

I am free
of all those old
shattered ways
of seeing myself.

I am whole."

In an author's note, Margarita Engle speaks of her fascination with this shipwreck and her family history that led her to discover her roots as an Indigenous Cuban, descended from a long line of women like Caucubu.

In a further historical note, she discloses her research finds about the historical figures who people her story. Quebrado is fictional. The others are not. She relates the characters and events, the culture and language and the literature that has been telling this love story for five hundred years. Amazing!

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