October 1, 2012
Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle
I loved Engle’s Newbery Honor book, The Surrender Tree. It tells the story of Rosa who works as a healer among those fighting for Cuba’s freedom. So when I saw Hurricane Dancers, I checked it out from our library. Of course, that was the same week that a huge stack of requested novels also came home with me and this one sat and sat. How I wish I had gotten to it sooner!
Hurricane Dancers is a novel told in verse. Quebrado is a mixed race boy, part Spanish and part Native Cuban. When illness wipes out all in his village except him and his Spanish father, his father wanders off into the forest leaving Quebrado alone. Pirates quickly realize what an asset the boy is — with a foot in both worlds he is fluent in both his mother’s flutelike language and the rolling sounds of his father’s Spanish. Traded from ship to ship, Quebrado finds himself serving Bernardino de Talavera, a failed rancher turned pirate. De Talavera is more cruel than talented when it comes to his ship and they are wrecked in a Carribean hurricane.
I don’t want to tell any more of the plot because that would leave you without the joy of discovering the life and name that Quebrado builds for himself. Quebrado simply means a young ships slave of mixed Spanish and Taino, native Cuban, ancestry.
Told in verse, this is a very quick read. In that way, it would be a good choice for reluctant readers because there is plenty of white space and limited time is spent on each individual page.
But this is a complicated story — it is after all the history of Cuba. There are multiple point of view characters including:
Bernardino de Talavera
Alonso de Ojeda, a cruel conquistador
Narido, a Ciboney native fisherman who rescues Quebrado after the hurricane
Caucubu, a chieftan’s daughter
Why tells the story from the points of view of so many characters? Cuba’s history is complex. It isn’t Native Indian because the Spanish came. It isn’t Spanish because they didn’t replace the various tribes although, in many ways, it would seem that they tried to do so. The ways of Spain did not completely work here but with the incoming Spanish neither did the ways of the various tribes. Those who truly thrived and who live on in Cuba today are those who combined both worlds, who adapted and changed no matter what their heritage.
This is definitely a book that I would encourage you to pick up for both reluctant and advanced readers. There is so much in it in spite of its brief text. It is a history of the Americas we should know much better than we do.