The Poet Slave of Cuba

This week didn’t turn out the way I imagined it to be. I had planned on turning in all assignments on time this week, get some reading in, and relax. Instead I caught a virus, maybe the flu, and ended up in bed for the last five days. I started feeling a little better yesterday. My youngest caught the virus last night and is miserable. Something tells me I won’t be at school next week. . .

Poetry cools me, syllables calm me
I read the verses of others
the free men
and know
that I’m never alone. . .
-The Poet Slave of Cuba

While I was taking care of my son this morning, I picked up The Poet Slave of Cuba from my nightstand. Written in verse by Margarita Engle, it’s the biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. Manzano was born a slave in Cuba. A favorite of his first master, Dona Beatriz, he had to follow her around like he was her own child, calling her Mama, and pretend he didn’t know his real mother. As Manzano grows up, he shows a wonderful gift for words. He can memorize any song, opera, play, poem in any language after hearing it just once. Dona Beatriz uses him as a parrot, going to the parties of slave owners and having to recite works by request.

My first owner was sweet to me
I was her pet, a new kind of poodle
my pretty mother chosen
to be her personal handmaid . . .

As an act of twisted compassion, Dona Beatriz sets Manzano’s mother free but not him, a child. She refuses to let him go until her death. But after her death instead of freedom, he is sent to be a slave of La Marquesta de Prado Ameno. Evil is not a strong enough word for her. A manipulative, sad, twisted person who finds nothing better in life but to focus on making Manzano’s own life hell. I won’t tell you the rest but there was one part that made me hold my breath.

It was the opening that made me check out the book.

My mind is a brush made of feathers

painting pictures of words

I remember
all that I see

every syllable

each word a twin of itself

telling two stories

at the same time

one of sorrow

the other hope

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
Margarita Engle (2006)
183 pages

Read for:
Young adult challenge
Year of Reading Dangerously – Feb.
Diversity Rocks
In Their Shoes
Year of Readers
2009 Mini-Challenge #3

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6 thoughts on “The Poet Slave of Cuba

  1. Aw, I hope you all feel better soon! This book looks fascinating and so sad, I love the idea of a book about a poet written in verse.

    Don’t forget to link to your February reviews at the Diversity Rocks blog. Do it by the end of today and you can win a free book!

  2. Oh no, it seems like so many people are getting sick. Hope you are on the road to recovery and your little one too!

    I really like the sound of this book. That first stanza you posted is just great.

  3. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been sick :( I hope you’re feeling better now.

    And the book sounds absolutely amazing!

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