Thursday, April 1, 2010
Recently, two juvenile novels have been published which portray complementary perspectives on the life of children during the first few years of Castro's regime in Cuba. Published in 2009 by FSG, Eduardo F. Calcines' Leaving Glorytown: One Boy's Struggle Under Castro describes the life hardships and horrors brought about by Castro's control in Cienfuegos, Cuba. From the time he is three until just before he turns fifteen, Eduardo watches as family members are killed or tortured and as food becomes more and more scarce. The novel follows the boy's life until he escapes Cuba with his family before he is drafted into the army.
Another novel, The Red Umbrella (Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Knopf, 2010) begins with the carefree life of fourteen-year-old Lucia and her younger brother Frankie and follows the two children as they see their family ripped apart as a result of the corruption and influence of Castro's government. Whereas Eduardo in the previous novel endures many years under Castro's regime, Lucia and her brother are able to escape to America via Operation Pedro Pan. Unfortunately, the children must leave their parents behind in Puerto Mijares and go to live with two complete strangers in the cornfields of Nebraska. Gonzalez does a good job depicting the anguish of leaving one's roots and adopting an entirely new culture. The crumbling of the Old Cuba is made clear through the letters Lucia receives from her family and her best friend. Lucia watches her friend go from a strong headed girl interested primarily in the latest fashion to a conditioned trainer for the Revolution.
Together, these two novels provide contemporary children with a glimpse into the lives of their counterparts during the early years of communist Cuba. Both are recommended for grades 5 and up.