cover image Singing to Cuba

Singing to Cuba

Margarita Engle. Arte Publico Press, $9.5 (164pp) ISBN 978-1-55885-070-5

The narrator of this pleasantly rambling first novel is a Cuban-American poet raised in Harlem who returns to Cuba to visit relatives and to let them know that they are remembered by their family in exile. When a cousin, fearful of the Castro regime, requests that she not use his name in writing about the experience, she responds, ``I'm just a nature poet. I write very small, insignificant little things about trees and flowers, birds, insects, things like that.'' In fact, the novel deals with human nature: the ``Maximum Leader'' and his tyranny, the ways in which people adjust to shortages, and the nostalgia that the narrator feels for the summers she spent in Cuba as a girl. There is no plot per se, but it is a joy to travel along with Engle's narrator as she observes the way Cubans blow kisses to tourists who are virtually stealing food out of their mouths, and as her cousin explains how subversive songwriters find ways to encode anti-Castro lyrics, like the tune in which William Tell's son grows tired of holding an apple on his head. The title refers to ``Singers to Cuba,'' a group that travels around singing (forbidden) religious songs and asking for guidance from God. (Sept.)