Engle, Margarita. The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba. Henry Holt and Company, LLC: New York, 2010. ISBN 9780805090826.
Frederika Bremer is a feminist and human rights activist from Sweden, who has taken to traveling the world to write about the beauty and horrors there are. When she asks to visit Cuba, she expects thatched huts and dirt ground. What she finds, however, is that Cuba is not far from the world she grew up in. Luxurious mansions where girls and women aren’t allowed outside, but rather sit in their rooms and learn the art of embroidery.
As Frederika travels the island, she is accompanied by a young slave, Cecilia, who longs for her home in Africa. Elena, the rich, caged, daughter of her host family, soon joins them and explores a land she knows little about, though she’s lived there her whole life.
This is a beautiful, compelling novel told in free verse that will captivate and astound the reader as they get to know these amazing characters.
Written in her typical style, Margarita Engle, the author of The Surrender Tree, captivates her audience in this moving and beautifully written novel. This book does everything right. The plot is fascinating, the characters are real and have depth, and the language is wonderful. This book is told in free verse, so there’s no rhyme, but the text is obviously poetry. The novel is fluid, and flows well. It’s written at a good pace. It’s a short read, especially since you don’t want to put it down. It moves quickly, but is very enjoyable and you feel as though you’ve had more time with it, if that makes any sense to anyone but me. The only flaw I would say is adding in Cecilia’s husband or not adding enough of Cecilia’s husband, because we only hear from him a couple of times, and it doesn’t really advance the plot much.That being said, his parts are just as beautifully written. So they either needed to add more of him or not add him at all.
All in all, this book was remarkably beautiful and really addresses the plight of Cuban slaves, something you don’t hear much about. I highly recommend this!
“I remember a wide river
and gray parrots with patches of red feathers
flashing across the African sky
like traveling stars
or Cuban fireflies.
In the silence of night
I still hear my mother wailing,
and I see my father’s eyes
refusing to meet mine.
I was eight, plenty old enough
to understand that my father haggling
with a wandering slave trader,
agreeing to exchange me
for a stolen cow.
Spanish sea captains and Arab merchants
are not the only men
who think of girls
This is the first page, and when I opened up the book and read that, I felt my breath catch and tears fill my eyes. The beauty and fluidity of the language is breath taking. The whole books reads just this throughout. It’s lyrical and mystical and you get this eerie feeling when you read. I chose this part because it’s a wonderful embodiment of the tone of the book and the fluidity and magic of the language. This is a great book to use in a poetry unit, making ties with black history or Latin history.