Title: Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba
Author: Margarita Engle
ISBN: 9780805089363
Pages: 199 pages
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company, c2009.

“I cannot understand
how the J
that condemned me
in Germany

has been transformed
into a mark of safety
on this crazy island–” (117)

Jewish teenager Daniel was sent away from Germany by his parents in the hopes of escaping the Nazi regime and landing in America. After he was turned away from New York, he ends up in Central America, Cuba to be exact. Dangers and secrets lurk in this strange country where he can’t understand their language or customs. When whispers of spies in their midst begin to circulate, Daniel and local girl Paloma must maintain their own secrets. But one big secret unites them, as they try to save what little humanity is left in the world.

I’ve traditionally been apathetic about novels in verse. Most of the time, they seem to be just disjointed sentences, with the author choosing only to reveal what is important for the reader to know. That is my impression with Margarita Engle’s Tropical Secrets. Although it pulls you in with it’s short poems (the longer ones lasting only two pages), I wish there had been more to the story. More narration, description, dialogue, more something, and that left me feeling unsatisfied. I felt the story was incomplete, with large gaps in time accounted for only by a single page referencing the passage from July 1939 to December 1941, and then again to April 1942. It does provide interesting background information regarding the little known condemnation of German Christians due to suspicions of Nazi spies, which I had never heard of. The symbolism behind the names of the characters would be good discussion material, as it is addressed in the novel. But I don’t think these facts outweigh the gaps in the narrative.