LION ISLAND: CUBA'S WARRIOR OF WORDS -- a haunting novel in verse that tells the story of a young man who became a civil rights champion
Lion Island: Cuba's Warrior of Words by Margarita Engle (2016, Atheneum Books for Young Readers; 176 pages)
“Liberty is the beast that is never tamed; it breaks the chains that bind it with blood and fire, to reclaim its rights.” -Antonio Chuffat
This is the true story of Antonio Chuffat, a young man whose ancestors clashed and blended on the beautiful island of Cuba. It is the story of a boy who became a champion of civil rights for those who could not speak for themselves.
The book narrates in verse form the times when Cuba is fighting for freedom from Spain. Enslaved Africans and near-enslaved Chinese servants are forced to work long, backbreaking hours in the fields. Antonio feels lucky to have found a good job as a messenger where his cultural background is an asset. One day he meets Wing, a young Chinese fruit seller who barely escaped the anti-Asian riots in San Francisco, and his sister Fan, a talented singer. Seeing and feeling injustice all around them, the three friends are determined that, in this time of violent rebellion and slavery, violence through guns will not be the only way to gain liberty. The power of written petitions offered hope, and this Chinese-African Cuban messenger boy named Antonio Chuffat documented the war of words.
The book was written by the talented and fantastic Cuban-American poet and novelist, Newbery Honor-winning author Margarita Engle. I immensely enjoy novels written in verse, and Margarita Engle’s verse is astonishingly beautiful. She chose to begin the book with a chapter in non-verse form that describes the historical background of the story. This chapter is rich in information and fabulous because it brings to the surface a dark episode in the history of slavery, this time placed in Cuba: “Beginning in the 1840s, more than 250,000 men were shipped to Cuba and Peru from China as part of a treaty between the Spanish and Chinese empires. Working in Cuba’s sugarcane fields alongside African slaves, Chinese indentured laborers were often forced to sign one eight-year contract after another. Intermarriage between Chinese men and African women created a richly blended culture with unique religious, musical, and culinary traditions. In 1868, a small group of planters in Cuba freed slaves and declared independence from Spain. Around the same time, Chinese Americans were fleeing anti-Asian riots in California. By the early 1870s, 5,000 refugees had settled in Cuba.”
Incredibly powerful, hopeful, haunting and beautiful, this is a must read book for people of all ages.
Find this title in our catalog: Lion Island
Recommended by: Maite