NSAndrew Liebergen's Reviews > The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle
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's review
Nov 20, 09

bookshelves: poetry
Read in November, 2009

The Biography of the Cuban slave is a dramatic and visual ride through Cuba in 1797. Born into a household of a wealthy slave owner, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mother of his home. Juan was not allowed to become educated. Yet through all his adversity he showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses show his vision of the beautiful idealistic world, yet at the same time uncover the brutality and savagery that lies underneath the skin.
One criticism is that it is hard to keep track of the many characters in the book. It would be helpful to have a character map and a timeline to gain a visual reference for the events laid out in the book.
The book is mostly positives though. I enjoyed how it told the story from various points of view, including Manzano’s masters. This is a raw view of slavery in all its cruelty, torture, physical, and mental abuse. But throughout the book, the author keeps a ray of sunlight shinning for the reader to hold on to much as Juan does. I also find it interesting and something I have never considered is how the author shows how slavery not only affects the slaves, but the slave owners as well.
This would be an excellent book to compliment a Cuban history unit. Combine it with a nonfiction book of Cuba and the students have a whole picture to latch facts and figures on to.
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