Review of With a Star in My Hand: Rubén Darío, Poetry Hero

With a Star in My Hand: Rubén Darío, Poetry Hero
by Margarita Engle
Middle School, High School    Atheneum    150 pp.    g
2/20    978-1-5344-2493-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-2495-1    $10.99

Written in first person, this heartfelt verse novel tells the fictionalized story of Rubén Darío (based on his autobiography), who was born in 1867 in Nicaragua and initiated the modernismo literary movement (a blend, as Engle writes in her appended author’s note, of “poetry and prose, complex rhymes, assonance…and free verse, as well as classical European and indigenous Native American images”). Abandoned by his mother in the jungle as a baby, Darío is eventually taken in by a great-aunt and -uncle whose stories told aloud become the basis for his poetry. Darío becomes known as the “Poet Boy of Central America” and uses that fame to leave Nicaragua for El Salvador and Chile, where he seeks further literary commissions but experiences racism due to his dark skin and indio heritage. Darío’s childhood abandonment haunts him, making him feel unwanted, always in exile; these feelings eventually motivate him to work for social equality and develop new, experimental literary forms. Although it’s often difficult to place the larger narrative in historical context and track its subject through time, the brevity of the poems allows readers to make rapid progress through the novel, and the placement of line breaks is thoughtful and effective: “With paper as my sky, words / are the wind that should help my mind fly.” An author’s note and a list of references complete the book.

From the January/February 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Hakim Azzam
Julie Hakim Azzam

Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University and has a PhD in literary and cultural studies, with a specialization in contemporary postcolonial literature from Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

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