Friday, August 17, 2012

The Firefly Letters

I wish every country had an author like Margarita Engle representing it. I would be so much better informed if Paraguay or Laos had an author who was dedicated to telling the unknown history of their nation, while using the most beautiful lines of poetry. We are fortunate to have Cuban-American Margarita Engle to teach us about her beloved homeland.

In The Firefly Letters, Engle explores Sweden’s first female novelist, Fredrika Bremer and her 1851 visit to Cuba. Based on Bremer’s actual letters, the reader gets access to the thoughts of an advocate of women’s rights who also had a poetic soul. We also get the perspectives of two fictional characters: Elena, a wealthy Cuban who is locked away in a mansion until she marries, and Cecilia, a character based on the African slave who serves as translator and companion to Fredrika.

The friendship between the three women is the heart of the story. Each is forever changed by what they experience together during Fredrika’s three month visit. Cecilia is able to make strides towards freedom for her unborn child, Elena begins a quiet rebellion, and Fredrika finds a cause to rally behind.

As always, Engle’s poetry is full of evocative imagery. She gives us the picture of Elena, wishing she could experience life the way Fredrika does, saying:

"I sit alone in my room
at the ornately barred window,
embroidering curlicues
like the fancy ironwork
that separates me
from the rest of the world."

My favorite pieces were when Fredrika battled her feelings about Cuba, a gorgeous country where many were living in tragic circumstances:

"I cannot understand 
how people who live surrounded
by so much beauty
can shut themselves up indoors
like Elena, and her mother.

Can it be
that they are afraid
of hideous truths
that will be revealed 
by the lovely sun
as well as the dangerous

I will be recommending to students who have just completed Lynn Joseph’s The Color of my Words and fans of historical fiction and novels in verse. This one shouldn’t be missed. 


  1. I agree! If more countries had a wonderful author like Margarita Engle we would surely be more informed on other cultures and their history. Beautiful review Miss K. You included one of my favorite quotes from the book too =)

  2. Aww, thanks. I just learned that my new school's library has the last Engle book that I haven't read. Woo Hoo!


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