This verse novel presents a fictionalized account of a real historical figure who used the power of words to help end forced labor in 19th-century Cuba.
Antonio Chuffat is a free-born Chinese-African young man who comes of age in Cuba during a time of turmoil. Indentured laborers from China and African slaves are suffering dehumanizing injustice. Rebels have been fighting against Spanish rule for years. Thousands of Chinese-American refugees are migrating to Cuba, fleeing anti-Asian violence in California. Antonio’s adolescence is spent working as a courier, delivering messages that travel between Spanish and Chinese businessmen, military leaders, and diplomats. Observing the violence and seeking a way to contribute to the battle for justice, he comes to realize that true power can be found in words, and so he helps to tell the stories of the powerless. Fictional twins Wing and Fan, Chinese-American refugees, also help tell the story. Over the course of seven years, these three main characters each find their own ways to contribute to the freedom efforts. As with Engle’s related verse novels, this work looks directly at the brutality of slavery and war. It also tenderly exposes the rage and hope that can exist within the same heart.
A fierce portrait of a young man’s discovery of power through words. (historical background, historical note, references, further reading) (Historical verse/fiction. 11-16)