By Jorge Inzunza
One of the many admirable aspects of the work of Margarita Engle is its ability to generate universal stories. Cuba, the scene of many of her books, is an Ithaca hidden in the middle of the ocean, with jungles and crossings.
In literature there are many stories that place the protagonists in an extreme experience of abandonment. One of the favorite settings is the island. These territories are offered as the place for the hero or heroine to discover their inner strength and develop their determination, which will culminate in the conquest of the island (and themselves).
In the history of nations, the islands have made steps for the constitution of empires, but also have been places of punishment, ostracism and thus self-redefinition. Margarita Engle’s Cuba is intersected by all of these elements. In its corners, stories coexist of struggles, resistance and sacrifices that come to us through oral history.
The protagonists of Margarita are not adults punished by political or social persecution, seekers of economic opportunities, or explorers. Her characters are children who live on the island, who identify with it, or at the least part of their identity is the island. Growing up on the island leads us to a different narrative. These characters hold hands with the readers and invite them to cross the haciendas, beaches and jungle. In this nature, these characters face injustice, discrimination and social and political transformations. They are guides illuminating pieces of muted history.
Words and poetry assume a secondary character role. Thus, poetry is a kind of transcendental mentor that allows the transformation and liberation of the characters.
Margarita’s Cuba is not abandonment, but rather conversation and encounter. It is a relationship of coming and going in a pendulum movement that crosses the spatial and temporal dimensions. It is a way to carry out a mission of eternal return to the origin. This is how Margarita elevates her poetry to a universal place.
The Wild Book (2012), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The Lightning Dreamer (2013). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Forest World (2017). Atheneum Books.
Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words (2017). Simon and Shuster.ç
All the Way to Havana (2017). Henry Holt and Co.
Federenko , Edward John: Islands and transformation: An archetypal pattern in Western literature (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9709593. https://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI9709593