The Surrender Tree (Margarita Engle)

In the late 1800s in Cuba, a handful of Cuban slave owners freed their slaves and declared independence from Spain. For the next 30 years, that battle for freedom continued, as slavery was abolished and Cubans fought for their survival as the Spanish ordered them into “reconcentration camps” and slaughtered hundreds of thousands.

It was an incredibly dark time, but also was marked by the power of people fighting for freedom.

“The Surrender Tree” weaves stories of that time, the wars, revolution, genocide, slavery and everyday living that happened then, through the voices of different characters speaking to the reader in poetry.

The book mostly centers on Rosa and her husband, Jose, (based on true historical figures) and is broken into three sections — the time leading up to the Cuban War for Independence, during the war, and after. The first section explores how Rosa learns to be a healer with the materials of the Earth, and then during the war how she and Jose work to heal the people hiding from the concentration camps and help the people of Cuba in their efforts for independence.

Other characters are composites based on historical accounts and documents researched by the author, whose own great-grandfather lived through this time period in Cuba and whose grandmother was born right after it.

It’s a much deeper understanding of that time in history than in most history books, and is told from the perspective of the people. This is a good book to read with your class if you are a teacher, or if you are studying this time and you want a more in-depth perspective. Ages 11 and up.

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