Review of Letters from Cuba

Letters from Cuba
by Ruth Behar
Intermediate, Middle School    Paulsen/Penguin    272 pp.    g
8/20    978-0-525-51647-7    $17.99

In 1938, eleven-year-old Jewish girl Esther is the first of her siblings to emigrate from Poland to Cuba, joining her father, who went three years earlier. Her letters to her sister, kept in a notebook to be shared later, form the narrative of Esther’s new life in Cuba. With the help of her skill as a clothing designer, Esther and Papa save money to bring the rest of the family over, as rumors build of the worsening situation for Jews in Europe. The story is in some ways refreshingly optimistic: both Papa and Esther adapt fairly easily to life first in rural Agramonte and then in Havana. Behar creates a welcome portrait of a warm, diverse community — one that supports the family members when they do face local antisemitism, and as a result creates an Anti-Nazi Society. But the novel doesn’t paint an overly sunny picture — realistically, adjustment isn’t as easy for other members of Esther’s family when they arrive (or, in one case, choose not to come). An author’s note cites connections to Behar’s (Lucky Broken Girl, rev. 7/17) family history and to Karen Hesse’s Letters from Rifka (1992).

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She is a current member of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committee, and has served on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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