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Review of Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir

engle_enchanted airEnchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
by Margarita Engle
Middle School   Atheneum   195 pp.
8/15   978-1-4814-3522-2   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-3524-6   $10.99

Well known for her portrayals of historic Cubans in verse novels such as The Surrender Tree (rev. 7/08) and The Poet Slave of Cuba (rev. 7/06), Engle explores her own past in this collection of emotionally rich memory poems. The daughter of a Don Quixote–obsessed American artist of Ukrainian Jewish descent and a beautiful homesick Cuban émigrée, Engle begins with joyful visits to her mother’s homeland as a child. Roaming the countryside, she falls in love with “the lush beauty of a land so wild / and green that the rippling river / on my great-uncle’s farm / shimmers like a hummingbird.” Engle effectively contrasts the smoggy air of sprawling Los Angeles with the enchanted air of that small, magical-seeming island, and at first going between the two cultures is fairly seamless: “In one country, I hear the sweet words / of another. / Dulce de leche means sweet of milk. / Guarapo is sugarcane juice.” But then there’s the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and suddenly all is different. Moving through elementary and middle school, the wistful young Margarita struggles to find her American self in a country that views her mother’s homeland as the enemy. Ending with a note of optimism — “All I know about the future / is that it will be beautiful” — Engle’s personal reverie gives young readers an intimate view of a complicated time and life. A timeline is appended.

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Monica Edinger

Monica Edinger, a fourth-grade teacher at the Dalton School in New York City, blogs at Educating Alice and the Huffington Post. She is the author of Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad (Candlewick), illustrated by Robert Byrd.

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