Engle, Margarita. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir. Atheneum Books for Young Readers: New York, 2016. ISBN 978-1481435239
In this poetic memoir, we see a young Margarita torn between two worlds: her mother’s lush and tropical island of Cuba, and her home in Las Angeles. She travels between the two, her heart in both places. But when the war erupts and tensions grow between her two beloved countries, she is torn. Eventually her two worlds collide.
This book was phenomenal. Really, as per usual, Margarita Engle delivers a beautifully written, thought provoking, and emotional read. Told in free verse, this memoir addresses her childhood as a half Cuban, half American during the Cold War.
The writing and the imagery are poetic. I could clearly envision the beautiful island of Cuba, that her heart yearned for. I could feel her struggle, learning that she couldn’t go back and that she was cut off from her family and her identity. I could feel her sense of loss.
The book flows well, and is split into different time periods that were crucial in her life. Before, during, and after. We start in 1947, before Engle is born; the day her parents met. We then move to 1951-1959, then to 1960, 1961-1964, and finally, 1965. Each time period starts with a picture of a flower, and a section heading. Each poem has a “title” a phrase to sum up the experience. It is laid out beautifully.
Through her childhood eyes, we can see how children who are from or whose parents are from countries we are fighting against feel. The fear of losing her mom. The fear of being put in internment camps. The fear of never seeing her Cuban extended family again.
Cuba is described so beautifully. It really makes me want to go there. The culture is heavy in this book, so it would be classifies as culturally specific. But more than the culture and the country itself, this is a book about how it feels to be in a family of immigrants.
Unfortunately, this is a book for all time periods. This is how the Japanese Americans felt. This is how the Irish immigrants felt. I’m sure our Muslim brothers and sisters feel the same way now. I’m sure our Syrian brothers and sisters feel the same. And I’m sure all of our immigrants feel the same. In our current political climate, this book is relevant and necessary, no matter how much we wish it weren’t so.
The ending had me in tears. I won’t spoil it, but it was moving and remarkable.
From School Library Journal:
“A deeply personal memoir-in-verse filled with Engle’s trademark intricately woven lyricism. The author’s memories focus on the first 14 years of her life, beginning with idyllic summers spent in her mother’s homeland of Cuba and ending during the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequent travel ban. Engle captures the heart of a quiet, young girl torn between two cultures. This historical memoir/love poem to Cuba couldn’t be more timely. With the recent easing of relations with Cuba, teachers can use the text as an accessible entry point into the history behind this very current event. And while the narrative unfolds over 50 years ago, Engle’s experiences will still resonate with adolescents and teens today. Any child who has felt like an outsider will recognize themselves in Margarita’s tale. When the Cuban Missile Crisis ended and everyone’s focus shifted, the author was left confused, empty and unfulfilled by her school’s seemingly senseless focus on what felt like irrelevant historical events. What American child with ties to a country experiencing turmoil couldn’t relate to the lingering after-effects of far off events in our era of two-minute news bytes? VERDICT: A more than worthwhile purchase for any library in need of a universally applicable coming-of-age tale, a fantastic new memoir-in-verse, or a glimpse into Cuba’s past.”
From Kirkus Reviews:
“Poet and novelist Engle has won a Newbery Honor, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Américas Award, among others…. This time she brings readers her own childhood. Employing free verse, she narrates growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and early ’60s torn by her love of two countries: the United States, where she was born and raised, and Cuba, where her mother was from and where she spent vacations visiting family. Woven into the fabric of her childhood is the anxiety of deteriorating relations between the two countries as the Cuban revolution takes place, affecting both her family and the two countries at large…. Though it is a very personal story, it is also one that touches on issues affecting so many immigrants…. As so many of our children are immigrants or children of immigrants, we need more of these stories, especially when they are as beautifully told as this one.”
“Reflecting on her childhood in Los Angeles and her Cuban heritage, Engle’s memoir in verse is, indeed, nothing short of enchanting. Descriptions of Cuba as a tropical paradise and the home of her beloved abuelita come alive in the spare free-verse poems. She evocatively addresses weighty issues, such as her mother’s homesickness, being bicultural, the challenge of moving homes and schools, the Cuban Revolution, and negotiating an identity that is being torn apart by politics and social attitudes at complete odds with her feelings and experiences. With characteristic precision, Engle captures a range of emotions and observations salient to a young girl…. In addition to the arresting content that provides many opportunities for learning, the craft of this memoir lends itself to creative exploration in the classroom…. The book’s poignancy and layered beauty make it a worthy addition to any collection and a fitting companion to Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (2014) and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again (2011).”
Books by Margarita Engle:
Forest World ISBN 978-1481490573
Drum Dream Girl ISBN 978-0544102293
The Surrender Tree ISBN 978-0312608712
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ISBN 978-0147515827
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai ISBN 978-0061962790
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Majorie Agosin ISBN 978-1416994022
Write about your ancestors and where they’re from. It can be as far back as those who came on the Mayflower, or it can be as recent as your parents or even yourself. Who are you?