Tropical Secrets Holocaust Refugees In Cuba | Hamro Patro

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Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

   Eshita Lal - Dec 16 2022

The author who wrote this beautiful book was Margarita Engle. It was published on March 31, 2009. This book “Tropical Secrets” is a book /novel on verse. The main protagonists are Daniel, Paloma and David according to the book. Daniel who is a Jew has escaped Nazi Germany. He has only one desperate dream running through his head to reunite with his parents again. His main aim was NewYork but unfortunately he landed in Cuba. As the book proceeds the young refugee meets a girl and an old man with their own painful secrets.

In the beginning, we are introduced to our main character “Daniel”. He turns out to be a Jew. He lived in Germany. Last year his grandfather died. He explained how sad he was feeling. His parents are musicians. They are not rich, but poor instead. They had only enough money for one person to escape the country so they decided to save their son. After landing in many ports he landed in Cuba. He thought of meeting his parents one day. One of the German sailors spit on his face but he is too scared to wipe it out. He is even scared of taking his warm clothes out thinking someone would steal them.

Then, we are introduced to a new character “Paloma”. She explains how she is tormented by her father’s secrets. Her father only cares about money.

Daniel only has a few coins sewn in a secret place in his coat. His parents said he will need it so he is taking care of it very carefully.

Paloma is talking about what dirty thoughts his father is having, to sell visas to enter the small island nation. Then, Paloma hears drumming on her door. She goes to check it to find an old man selling ice cream. Her father would be furious seeing this as he hates people who are poor and foreign. Especially a Jew.

Daniel reaches Cuba and talks about not being familiar with this kind of area, and also that he thinks it’s impossible he will ever see his parents ever. A friendly old man gives him one ice cream bar after another. He tells his name is David and his past. Two days have passed, still Daniel hasn’t changed his heavy coat. The old man tells him that he has to stay in this hot sweaty Hotel Cuba. So, it’s better if he takes his coat off. Next, he finally lets his coat rest and wears cotton clothes and feels much better. He meets a girl who is helping David. The girl talks with Daniel.
David is happy that he has plenty of ice cream and advice to give away. Because he has nothing else to give.
Daniel says that David says that removing his coat was his first step and accepting strange food was second. Now David wants him to explore new things. Daniel says that Havana is never quiet. Sleeping is impossible there. He thinks that his father was correct that language doesn't matter as much to musicians as to other people. They would use instruments to communicate with foreigners. His days in Havana gets used to, he sees people listening to nice songs where as another people listening to hideous Nazi songs. The girl gives him an orange but he cannot make himself eat it as in his hometown oranges are very precious.

Paloma says that Germans were in her house last night, her papa made her stay in her room. She heard him laughing which only meant he was getting richer.

Paloma’s papa thinks business is business. Why should he care about others, he only cares if his business is making him money or not.

Daniel says that that day a ship left Havana Harbours. He saw people trying to jump from the railings, rowing in boats to the shore. He thought where would the ship go, what would happen to the refugees. He could not imagine what would happen to the people. He feels really powerless. She sees the green eyed girl turn her face away when she serves their meals. He could not tell whether she was sad or ashamed . David tells her name to him. It turns out to be Paloma but her real name was Maria Dolores.

Paloma’s papa thinks that paloma is not his daughter, his daughter is Maria Dolores and Paloma is just a name of her fantasy.

Daniel shares that he is used to living with strangers. Tonight he could not sleep. He thought about a lot of things like wishing he was not learning spanish, so that he could not understand the lies people talked about Jews.
 Paloma thinks about her mother, why would she learn her, where she is, must have been already remarried and have children already, or is she dead. These kinds of things were coming through her head. She also said that she came from the family of secrets.

Daniel talks about feeling Cubans being foreign to him but David doesn't feel like foreign. He again talks about his parents.

Paloma and Daniel visit a Quaker meeting to see if it’s true that Protestants are really exotic. They join a circle of people sitting quietly praying. After the incident they go to the beach.

David tells that when the people ask him about his youth he tries to explain his painful past. Soldiers killing and taking away people. But luckily he was able to board a ship to Cuba. Although he had expected to land in New York but past was past he was happy now here.

Paloma explains and tells how her father used to dress her up like a heroic magician. But now he doesn't even look at the dancing. The part of his soul which loved music had vanished when her mother left them.
Daniel tells how he can’t stop dreaming about his parents. He sees his grandfather, his father’s voice. He says it feels so real as if they were to still be there with him.

Paloma and Daniel had decided to sell flowers and fruits from her garden to sell it to the new refugees.
Daniel expresses that music makes him feel calm, that it lets him forget his loneliness. He tells that when he had realized that Summer Carnival was a religious festival, he had almost changed his mind of dancing as his parents would not approve of celebrating a Catholic saint’s birthday. But David was able to convince him to take part.
They enjoy the festival, Paloma loves the decoration and lighting. Paloma says that Carnival only lasts for a few days and nights, so they had to figure out new ways to make money for helping the sad people. She tells her father El Gordo, “The Fat man”. He is not fat at all, he is called fat as he only thinks of ways to make his pocket fatter and fatter.

Daniel and Paloma share their secrets with each other. Paloma tells him that she wants to be a dancer like her mother , and Daniel tells he wants to be a musician as it made him happy. He says that he used to dream that he would be happy but now that dreams have become nightmares of soldiers finding him.
Daniel thinks that Paloma keeps teaching him Spanish, but he should be learning English.
David feels dizzy when people ask him about his life. He doesn't want to speak of his dead Cuban wife, or his son who moved away to who knows where, never writes nor visits.

Everything was going just fine and Daniel was starting to grow familiar with the unfamiliar land when he learned that Peak Harbour had been attacked by Japan, Cuba is arresting not only Japanese but German also. He is afraid he will be caught. Rumors say that the prisoners will be held in a guarded compound. It is also rumored that only Germans who are not Jewish will be rounded up and sent away. The red J on his passport proves that he is Jewish. Any German with no J in his/er passports will be suspected of being Nazi spies. Daniel is confused about whom to trust now at this moment.

Daniel and Paloma had helped the oldest couple in the shelter where he lived. The wife Miriam, is Jewish but her husband, Mark is a Cuban. Don’t they deserve to spend their lives together now.
Paloma is scared that what would happen if her father finds out the secret visitors who were depending on her?
David questions how can people stay sane in a world that makes no sense?
Daniel again thinks what if his parents were alive and are heading towards him in one of the ships to reunite. But then he thinks that if he is able to help Miriam and Mark he would feel he has fulfilled his parent’s wishes.
Paloma expresses that even though she shared secrets with Daniel there are still secrets that she can’t make herself to tell others. She feels horrible and says secrets are like a burden. She tells that in her home her father is living with his secrets and in her garden she is living with her own secrets.

After some time Paloma concludes that she cannot live with her father anymore. She will not live in this life of lies. Daniel and Paloma finally were able to send Miriam and Mark to her cousins and they must be fine. Last year after the train journey David convinced Paloma to return to her father’s house.
Daniel admits that he secretly wonders if his parents could be waiting on one of the last ships entering Cuba.
Paloma finally got the confidence to share her father’s dirty secrets with Daniel and David. They both are really upset. Daniel is more furious as he thought they were friends, maybe more.
Paloma also asks her father to help those people on the ship as she had no other option. But he just laughs and asks for the amount. Four hundred and eighty thousand american dollars was the price her father chose for the survival of the remaining two hundred and ten human lives.

Finally the two last ships came ashore. Those were Daniel's last hope. He was busy handing out Cuban food and cotton clothes to the new arrivals , he tried to teach them some spanish. He pretended to be happy being alone.. Paloma tells he found a boy on the last ship whose name was also Daniel.

After some time helping the refugee and sharing their experience near the end of this book, Paloma and Daniel are still friends, maybe more. The secrets that Paloma had hidden had been exposed and forgiven and they were all free. Daniel is singing a song on a Spanish guitar saying he is singing his parent’s story.

Daniel talks to the younger Daniel about Carnival and Cuba’s magical abundance of oranges. He discovers that the younger Daniel also loves music and teaches him about music and instruments. They make up songs in Cuban and enjoy the music and rhythm. And that’s how the book is concluded.

Critical Analysis
This book was written very nicely. Even though it is a book on verse still it was really comfortable and easy to understand what each page was trying to tell us. And the way it was written, with the POV of each main character really brings up the excitement to read more and more each time you complete reading a page. It feels like the characters straight up are telling it to us, makes me feel like I am a character of the book. The characters were also very nicely shown/described, from the past to his current thought everything is written down. Even though this book is fiction, after reading it, it feels as if we are reading the biography of a certain time of different characters in the book.

To be honest there was nothing that I would like to particularly say that I didn’t like about or in this book. As it was beautifully written and the plot was also really nice. Although I do think that Daniel should not have been so angry when Paloma told about her father’s dirty work after such a long time. I mean it is not so easy to trust anyone to be able to keep such a deep secret. It takes time.

Oh, I highly recommend this book to almost every age group. As, compared to the real Nazi attack incidents, it is written really lightly. In the real world much horrible violence was used but in this book no such harsh words are written. It’s almost that this book was written to tell us the life of the Jewish people of the Nazi attack in no such harsh ways. We can learn about the people’s life in that timeline. As I said before the characters were described and written brilliantly. After we read this book we will learn alot about how harsh our lives can be. This book so far is one of the best books I have ever read.


Eshita Lal
Grade: VII, Pumori
Author: Margarita Engle.
Originally published : March 31, 2009
Genre: Fiction

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