Title: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings, A Memoir
Author: Margarita Engle
Publisher: Simon and Schuster / Atheneum
Year Published: 2015
Recommended for: Grade 7 and up
Locations: Los Angeles, Northern California, Cuba, Europe
POV: This is a memoir in prose-poetry, so 1st person POV
My Source: I purchased a paperback copy of this book from Amazon
Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award
2016 Notable Verse Novel, NCTE
YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Finalist
SCBWI Golden Kite Award winner in non-fiction
ALA Notable Children’s Books
Walter Award Honor
2016 Pura Belpré Award
(Other honors and awards are listed on the author’s website; link below.)
The Premise of Enchanted Air
A bi-cultural childhood is complicated by the threat of war.
Margarita Engle – the author as a child living in Los Angeles
Magdalena (Mag) – her older sister
Her father whose family came from the Ukraine
Her mother who came from Cuba
Abuelita – Margarita’s Cuban grandmother.
Other Cuban relatives
1. Listen to your heart and follow your bliss.
2. War is not good for children and other living things.
3. Division causes long-lasting heartache and pain.
4. Countries should try harder to be at peace with each other.
Margarita Engle’s speech when accepting the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award in 2016
When my parents met, it was love at first sight. They were standing on the terrace of an art school in an elegant palace now known as the Museo Romántico, the Romantic Museum. They were breathing the enchanted air of Trinidad de Cuba, my mother’s hometown. My American father was a visiting artist who had traveled to Trinidad after seeing National Geographic magazine photographs of the colonial plaza, where horsemen still galloped along cobblestone streets, beneath soaring church bell towers, against a backdrop of wild green mountains. My mother was a local art student, ready to fall in love.” – Margarita Engle, from Enchanted Air
She paints a beautiful word-picture of her mother’s Cuban hometown, doesn’t she? This one introductory page was the only one not written in poetic style.
Here’s a photograph of the Cuban town where Margarita Engle’s parents met:
This is a memoir written in free-verse poetry. Nothing rhymes but the story gets told in a poetic, whimsical, round-about way. We’re invited into a private world where the emotions and yearnings of a precious, precocious young child are melded into visions of dancing trees, horses, bullets and the FBI.
My experience of reading the book
I intended to read this book in 2016, and that’s when I purchased it. It sat in my office, with a few others, until 2017… finally in October I opened it for the first time and discovered it is poetry! I was happy to see that because I can get through a book of poetry quickly. I’ve read a few other YA and middle grade novels done in poetry and they always seems to be a joy to read. This one was no different. I read it in four days, and very much enjoyed the poetic style.
My opinion of this book
When Margarita wrote about her middle grade experience of trying to fit in with other children at her school, I remembered my own childhood during those years. Like Margarita, I felt like I didn’t fit in even though I wasn’t experiencing cultural differences. My problem was social anxiety – an extended case of extreme shyness. So in some ways I identified with her angst.
The experiences she had with the FBI investigating her family were entirely out of my life experience, and I can see why she felt they were singled out and why that was traumatic for her. Cultural difference can also cause feelings of distress for children, especially when there are bullies at school picking on those differences and using them to belittle their peers. I hate it when that happens – don’t you? But if it weren’t for skin color, bullies would find something else to pick on because that’s just what bullies do. They become experts on finding ways to try to humiliate and disturb others.
I have to say, Margarita had a blessed childhood because of all her travel experiences. Not only did she visit beautiful Cuba several times, to meet and interact with her mother’s family, but later the family toured Europe. By the end of the book I wondered why she didn’t feel more blessed rather than focusing only on the Cuban / American divisions of the Cold War. Well, I guess everyone has their sad story and that was hers. Childhood sets us each up with a story that we spend the rest of our lives working out.
My own story was far different than Margarita’s though we grew up in the same era. I’ve never traveled off the North American continent, but I grew up without the cultural divisiveness she experienced. My angst came from social anxiety and abuse within my family. I think we should all take note of our blessings and forgive what went wrong. Sometimes that’s not easy. None of us have an easy road; life is full of heartaches.
About the Author
Margarita Engle lives in Northern California where she’s written many children’s books, mainly focusing on her love of Cuba.
Here’s her website: http://www.margaritaengle.com
I very much enjoyed reading this poetic coming-of-age memoir and recommend it for anyone who wants to explore the emotions involved in growing up biracial and bilingual. Also, this is a great introduction to the Cold War era and the effect it had on Cubans living in the United States. Though the publisher recommends it for ages 12 and up, I think younger children could read it though their parents should be aware it contains information about violence and war.
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