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Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  406 ratings  ·  102 reviews
Daniel has escaped Nazi Germany with nothing but a desperate dream that he might one day find his parents again. But that golden land called New York has turned away his ship full of refugees, and Daniel finds himself in Cuba.

As the tropical island begins to work its magic on him, the young refugee befriends a local girl with some painful secrets of her own. Yet even in Cu
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published March 31st 2009 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (first published January 1st 2009)
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3.73  · 
Rating details
 ·  406 ratings  ·  102 reviews

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I give Tropical Secrets, A Story of the Holocaust 4.5 stars because this book is too short. Geared toward a teen audience, Margarita Engle writes the story of Daniel a 13 year old German Jewish refugee in Cuba. Fleeing from Berlin right after Kristalnacht (night of crystals), Daniel obtains a visa but lands in Havana rather than New York. At first timid, Daniel makes the most of his situation thanks to his newly found mentor David, a Russian Jew, and Paloma, the daughter of El Gordo, the corrupt ...more
Mar 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Read. This. Book. True, it won't be released for a few more weeks. But make note of it now to get to this one when you get the chance. Written by Margarita Engle--an acclaimed verse novelist--the book is the story of Daniel, a Jewish refugee, and the friends he makes in Cuba--Paloma and David. Daniel had no intentions of going to Cuba. When his parents tearfully sent him away--hoping and praying that at least their son may survive--this was right after the Night of Crystal or Broken Glass; they ...more
Another success by Engle

Honestly, the women is a maestro with the way she interweaves history with poetry.
While there were some parts that were a bit slow, the story and meaning is there.

This book is not only important to know the history of Jewish Refugees who were prevented from entering both America and Canada and clung onto Cuba as their last hope but to also know and question just how absurd it is to hate someone on the way they view life.

Really humanity I ask you, why hate someone just be
May 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 29, 2009 added it
Margarita Engle teaches children another fascinating time in Cuban history in Tropical Secrets Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. When Holocaust survivors left Europe they landed in different parts of the Americas. This story focuses on three main characters. Daniel is a young boy whose means of escape was a ship to Cuba. Paloma is a young Cuban girl who wants to help, even hiding people in the dovecote in her backyard. David is a Cuban Jew who is able to connect with Daniel through the Yiddish languag ...more
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
The subject, Holocaust refugees in Cuba, was intriguing, but the book was disappointing. This is one of those stories that might better have been told at greater length in prose, perhaps in epistolary or diary form, than in verse. I felt there was something missing from the story. I expected a greater emotional impact, considering that it was about refugees. The historical note at the end provided more information, and I'm thankful that Engle did provide a reference to a book where one can read ...more
Apr 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was ok. It was an interesting subject that I haven't really thought of, but it just wasn't interesting enough. I think that with such a difficult topic, I should have felt some more emotion. I think that there should have been a bit more detail, but the book was kind of cute I guess. I don't think that reading it was a waste of time (I learned some new things), I just wouldn't read it again.
Sarah Hannah
This is one of the most fascinating topics in history and I was really excited to read about it. I was really disappointed with the pacing and confused by the time jumps. I think that verse really wasn't the best choice for this particular story, as it left a little too much out. Really, though, I noped out as soon as the Jewish character quoted from 1 Corinthians.
Destinee Sutton
I honestly don't get why this book has received so much critical acclaim. The subject matter was very interesting, yes, (I didn't know Jewish refugees from the Holocaust were turned away from New York harbors and sent to Cuba) but the writing was not what I would call top-notch, especially for poetry. The voices of the different characters were not distinct. It didn't strike me as especially beautiful or moving. In fact, one of the first stanzas made me cringe:

"My parents are musicians--/poor p
Oct 21, 2011 rated it it was ok
The story of Holocaust refugees ending up in Cuba is interesting and I would consider investigating it further, but I don't feel like this book really does a wonderful job with it. I think it just fell a bit flat and, as a personal note, I have trouble differentiating between Davids and Daniels in real life so having both names appear as main characters really threw me for a loop.

That being said, the fact that it is written as poems could make it a good book to put in the hands of a reluctant re
Kathleen Ferrel
Jun 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Daniel is a young Jewish boy who fled Germany during the Nazi regime. The ship he was on has been turned away from the "golden land" also known as New York. He now finds himself in Cuba facing obstacles he never could have imagined for his young life while he dreams of seeing his parents again one day. Due to discussions between characters of the violence that took place in Nazi Germany this book would be best suited for children grades 5th through 8th. Children who are interested in learning ab ...more
S10_Jessica Oster
Jul 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: jewish, poetry
format: verse novel (audio version)
age: grades 5-8
protagonist: Daniel

Since this is written in free verse, the audio version has different narrators for each character which is a nice change from the typical one narrator you get with most stories. However, I don't think this book would have been as effective to listen to without the different voices to help signify when the character changes. Overall, I liked listening to it and found it easy to follow with the different narrators.
Breanna Bongle
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Margarita Engle teaches children another fascinating time in Cuban history in Tropical Secrets Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. When Holocaust survivors left Europe they landed in different parts of the Americas. This story focuses on three main characters. Daniel is a young boy whose means of escape was a ship to Cuba. Paloma is a young Cuban girl who wants to help, even hiding people in the dovecote in her backyard. David is a Cuban Jew who is able to connect with Daniel through the Yiddish languag ...more
Stephanie Tournas
Dec 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: young-adult
Paperback edition of Engle's 2009 historical novel about Jewish refugees in Cuba at the beginning of World War II. Full of anguish about leaving his parents behind in Germany, 14 yr old Daniel tries to find peace in the strange tropical country. Befriended by 13 yr old Paloma and the old man David, a refugee of the pogroms in Russia, Daniel finds music and friendship, but is always haunted by the question of his parents' fate. Told in alternating voices, the story paints a picture of the time, ...more
Joan Marie
Engle does a wonderful job getting to the heart of the story using kernels of truth with every verse she writes. The universal need for love, family, acceptance, friendship, survival... all of these things surface in this story of refugees having to start over in a land not their own.

One of the verses I especially like is this one by David:
Dancing on stilts has always been
my favorite delight of carnival season.
I feel like I am sitting on God's shoulders,
looking down at the beautiful world.
two ye
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
The young people bring me
a baffling new question,
one that lies far beyond
my own powers of thought.

This question belongs
to the mind of God:

How can people stay sane
in a world that makes
no sense?

I really like Engle's way of telling a story. It was interesting reading a bit more about the Jewish experience in Cuba, especially during WWII. It was more interesting reading it now when refugees, anti-semitism, and propaganda have so much relevance.

Now I wonder
will people in New York
and Toronto
hear ab
Dec 07, 2017 rated it liked it
The poetry in Tropical Secrets is simple, but it hides raw honesty and secrets in its verse. The way Engle uses words gives the reader just a taste of the Cuban culture, through the eyes of both Daniel and Paloma. The inclusion of a third perspective was an interesting choice, that didn't mesh well for me. Regardless, I enjoyed reading this and learning about a story I hadn't heard before.
Collin A
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
this was a very sad book for me. The horific events that happened long ago can still hold so much pain for people. I think this was eye opening to see that although they escaped that they still got turned away because they could not hold everybody. Cuba was supposed to be the place to be safe but that time nobody was truly safe. The soft colors of greens and blue took a big impacat on the story. Cool colors always bring this gloomy feel to me when i read
Hannah Avery
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
Beautifully written, and not very long!
May 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Cindy Bryan
May 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
THIS BOOK IS AWESOME. it is unique,because it is written in the form of a poem. it details a jewish family escaping from Berlin to Cuba.
Neil Sud
Feb 23, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a great read; however, I felt that there wasn't any real conflict or action. The story went really fast, and Daniel quickly learned how to survive in Cuba without his family.
Sharon G
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Adolescent literature, interesting topic not widely known.
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful way to tell an important piece of history. Gorgeous and poetic, and perfect for both preteens/teens and adults alike.
Alex (not a dude) Baugh
Feb 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-2
This free verse novel, written from a first person perspective by three separate and distinct voices, introduces the reader to Daniel, a 13 year old German Jewish refugee who held the hand of his grandfather as he died on Kristalnacht; Paloma, the 12 year old daughter of a corrupt Cuban official who determines, for a high price, who gets a visa to enter Cuba. Paloma also works at a shelter to help the refugees adjust to their new surroundings; and David, an elderly Russian Jew who fled his count ...more
Mar 05, 2010 rated it liked it
"That is how I think of peace
and peace of mind—as timid birds
that we have to search for,
not bold ones that come
looking for us."

—Paloma, Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, P. 163

Margarita Engle straddles the concept of historical accuracy in storytelling and the poetic outcries of souls in great distress in all of her books, and nowhere does she accomplish it with more grace and ability than in Tropical Secrets.

The torturous events of Kristallnacht—the first night of major wid
Mar 29, 2014 rated it liked it
This is yet a another book I read for my intercultural connections class. The topic of conversation surrounding this book, along with a few others, was “war and political unrest in children’s literature.” I think it was good to discuss how we present such heavy topics to children. I’ve only recently read a little Margarita Engle, and I already love her. I do tend to like novels in verse. They’re quick reads, and because of the poetry the language is on a different caliber than most juvenile fict ...more
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a very interesting way to right a book because it's sorta poem. I give five stars because it was a very well written book about refugees going from Germany to Cuba and of the boy Daniel how he when through the process. It's hard to pass up reading this book about the struggle to survive imagration sorry if I spelled that wrong.
Walid Sobhan
It's a really bad book. I don't really like it because it wasn't that good.
May 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She lives with her husband in northern California.
“If only the peace I feel right now
could be stored up and released later
when cruelty surrounds me
in the dark
during nightmares.”
“I feel the heaviness of nightmares
even though I am awake.

How weary I am, how sleepless
and hopeless—there is no escape
from the torment
of wishes.”
More quotes…