Books Reviewed

Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar: A Book Review

Hello Book Lovers!

Today I have a great historical fiction middle grade novel to share with you! This is definitely one you’ll want to have on your radar! This particular book was another title that I received access to via School Library Journal’s Day of Dialogue as a Youth Services Librarian. The actual e-ARC itself came from NetGalley. So thank you to NetGalley & Nancy Paulsen Books for allowing me to read this title early in exchange for an honest review/being a librarian!

Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar: A Book ReviewLetters from Cuba by Ruth Behar
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books on 25 August 2020
Genres: MG Historical Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: ARC eBook
Source: NetGalley
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Pura Belpré Award Winner Ruth Behar’s inspiring story of a young Jewish girl who escapes Poland to make a new life in Cuba, while she works to rescue the rest of her family

The situation is getting dire for Jews in Poland on the eve of World War II. Esther’s father has fled to Cuba, and she is the first one to join him. It’s heartbreaking to be separated from her beloved sister, so Esther promises to write down everything that happens until they’re reunited. And she does, recording both the good–the kindness of the Cuban people and her discovery of a valuable hidden talent–and the bad: the fact that Nazism has found a foothold even in Cuba. Esther’s evocative letters are full of her appreciation for life and reveal a resourceful, determined girl with a rare ability to bring people together, all the while striving to get the rest of their family out of Poland before it’s too late.

Based on Ruth Behar’s family history, this compelling story celebrates the resilience of the human spirit in the most challenging times.

my review

Esther was such an uplifting character to read about in this new story from Ruth Behar. She was curious, open, hard-working, friendly and independent. I couldn’t help but smile as I read the story through her point of view. She was an easily likeable character.

Readers first meet Esther as she writes about begging her father to let her come to Cuba first instead of her younger brother. Her father agrees and Esther makes the journey on her own from Poland all the way to Cuba where after medical exams she is finally released to her father. Esther embraces living in Cuba and she quickly adapts. She’s resourceful and open and makes friends easily. She tells her story through letters to her younger sister in Poland and readers watch as these letters turn into more like journal entries as Esther pours her thoughts, feelings and experiences into those letters.

I loved reading as Esther took it upon herself to help her father work and then as she became the main “money-maker” at just the age of 11. Her work ethic was to be envied! But not only did I envy her work ethic, I also loved her empathy and her curiosity and her willingness to reach out to everyone she met. Through these traits, Esther introduced readers to friends from multiple cultures and experiences. I really love how Behar included this within the story—how she showcased the experiences of former slaves and of Chinese immigrants to Cuba as well as the Cuban culture itself. There was so much goodness in being able to experience these different cultures and also in showcasing how many different groups of people were discriminated against. The biggest form of discrimination readers got to witness was the anti-Semitism enacted upon Esther and her father.

As stated in the description, the situation in Poland was getting dire for the Jewish people. Esther’s father left to Cuba because of this growing dangerous situation. This story was as much about a growing, hard-working, empathetic young girl as it was about a lesser known Jewish experience during World War II. Esther and her father didn’t only experience anti-Semitism while in Poland amid the ever-growing power of the Nazi movement within Europe, but also in Cuba as the Nazi ideology began to immerse itself even within Cuba and the Western hemisphere.

I didn’t know that Jewish people sought refuge in Cuba as a place to escape to from the rise in Nazi power in Europe. This was a blank spot in my knowledge and definitely not sometime I remember learning about in school. I’m really thankful I was able to read this story and see this part of history I hadn’t known about. I really loved the author’s note at the end and how she spoke about her family and the inspiration behind this story. It shed a lot more light on this topic.

In the end, this story is a must read! It has an extremely likeable character, an easily digestible story structure (letters!) and an important message. I hope all ages give this one a try!

five stars
Let's Chat

What do you think about Letters from Cuba? Have you read any other Jewish experience novels? Books written as letters? Let me know your recommendations and answers below!

Happy Reading!

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