- Alisha Barnes
Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engel is a historical novel in verse about holocaust refugees in Cuba. Daniel is a thirteen year old Jewish boy. His parents can only afford one ticket out of Germany and they give it to their child in hope that he will be able to escape Nazi Germany. They send him on a ship out of Germany, hoping that they will be able to meet him in New York City one day once they have saved enough money to pay for their tickets. However, Daniel's ship is turned away at both Canada and the United States. He and his fellow shipmates are sent to Cuba in hope that they will be able to enter that country as refugees. Many ships wait in Cuba's harbors for a chance to enter.
Daniel's ship lands in Cuba, but not without being harassed by Cuban officials in attempt to get money for visas into the county. Daniel and many other refugees have spent all of their money on their passage to this new land and thus have no money to give the greedy officials. Daniel then meets David, a Russian Jewish man, who fled Russia because of his Jewish beliefs many years prior to Daniel's departure from Germany. David is an ice cream vendor and spends a lot of time with the newly arrived refugees. He introduces Daniel to Cuban life, helping him learn to speak Spanish and adjust to his new home. Daniel also meets Paloma, a twelve year old girl whose father is an El Gordo, Cuban government official, who seeks to make money off of the refugees living in his country.
This is a powerful story about Daniel's struggle to live in a new land as he holds onto the idea of being able to reunite with his parents some day in New York City. Together Daniel, David, and Paloma try to help other refugees as they make their way into Cuba. They also attempt to help refugees on ships, waiting in Cuba's harbor, gain admission into the country through the Cuban government officials, including Paloma's father.