Friday, May 4, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Firefly Letters

After my final exam of the semester yesterday, I finished up reading Margarita Engle's novel in verse, The Firefly Letters, a 2011 Pura Belpre Honor Book for Narrative.  The novel follows the story of Fredrika Bremer, a young woman from Sweden living in the mid 1800s, who travels to Cuba hoping to discover an uncharted Eden-like island and learn about the daily lives of its people.  Similar stylistically to Hesse's Out of the Dust and I think thematically to two non-children's lit companions, Cristina Garcia's Dreaming in Cuban (with the multiple narrative voices, the role of women and the importance of writing and art to the characters) and tinges of Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Engle takes readers on a journey through the eyes of several characters and their perspectives on Cuba, the daily life of a woman, the issue of slavery and various flights towards freedom.  The following is a beautiful passage from the novel:

"This island, with its lush gardens
and winter sun,
had me fooled.

I have always imagined
that a gentle climate would make the people
gentle too...but that is not the way
of the human heart
when it is lost in the selfishness
of greed."

I would definitely recommend this book to kids (12+) and adults alike, it is a quick read, but is powerful and provides a different perspective on slavery and one that may be unknown to most American students, since most have probably not learned much about Cuban history.  Has anyone else read this great book?  What do you think about the importance of fireflies throughout the story?  It seems that Engle was using fireflies as a metaphor for the African slaves who continue to keep alight their hope and wish to fly off into the realms of freedom, but are kept shut tight in the glass jars of slavery.

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