Title: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
Author: Margarita Engle
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2015.
In one country, I hear the sweet words of another.
Dulce de leche means sweet of milk.
Guarapo is sugarcane juice.
At home in California, when I speak
boastful English, I can say that I fly,
but when I make the same claim in Spanish,
I have to say: voy por avion
I go by airplane
Two sets of words.
Am I free to need both,
or will I always have to choose
only one way
of thinking? (13)
Margarita’s mother is from Cuba, and her father’s family is Ukraine. For a while they travel from Cuba to the United States and back, visiting family and a whole new culture and world in Cuba. But then conflicts between her two homes flare, and her family is unable to travel back to Cuba. In the beginning, her family is observed and questioned, but as the hostility continues Margarita can’t understand the animosity present, and how her fellow Americans are uneducated and unaffected, since she is privy to a wholly different perspective.
This is another book I have a hard time envisioning recommending to someone unless they had a special interest in autobiographies, prejudices, and the Cuban/American tensions. The word choices and verses are powerfully brief in nature, and fans of Brown Girl Dreaming may also enjoy this novel. But this is essentially a travelogue without any travel. Starting with some prettily portrayed trips, the second half details the prejudice and trials that the family faces. Instead, she waxes reflectively on idealized travels to Cuba in her childhood, where she rides horses with her cousins and juxtaposes them with the horrors of a closed Cuba after the Bay of Pigs invasion. It’s an eye-opening portrayal and certainly one that is relevant in the recent reopening of relations with Cuba by President Barack Obama, but not one that is discussed in-depth in schools, a disparity that is ironically addressed in the book itself and will impact and contribute to its obscurity. I can’t end this review without commenting that the cover is horrible, with a symbolic dove overlaid by half an illustrated face, and not at all appealing.
This review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.