LETTERS FROM CUBA, by Ruth Behar, Nancy Paulsen Books, Aug. 25, 2020, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 10 and up)
Ruth Behar’s Letters From Cuba follows a young Jewish girl who trades life in Poland for life in Cuba on the eve of World War II.
Things are not looking good for Jews in Poland. Esther’s father has already moved to Cuba and is working as hard as he can to earn enough to bring over the rest of her family. When he sends funds for just one person, Esther successfully makes the case for herself.
Esther is excited to join her father in Cuba, but is brokenhearted at being separated from her beloved sister. Esther decides to write everything down until they’re reunited.
It’s through Esther’s letters that readers learn what it was like for a Polish girl transplanted to a tropical island. In her letters, Esther tells of the heat, of the music, of the kindness she encounters and the prejudice that seems to follow Jews wherever they go.
Hers is a story of great joy and great sorrow. It is the story of friendship, ingenuity and family.
There’s a weight to Letters From Cuba that can only come from truth. The story is inspired by author Ruth Behar’s own family history. It’s something that’s incredibly personal and means a lot to the author, and you can tell. The care in which Behar tells not only Esther’s story, but that of those who she comes into contact with is impeccable.
Esther is special. Her heart is so pure, her spirit so strong. Even when she’s struggling, she finds the light. Even in the book’s darkest moments, Esther’s will shines through. I love her curiosity, her drive and her willingness to put others before herself.
Prior to reading Letters From Cuba I knew very little about European Jews escaping to Cuba. This is a fascinating look at an oft-looked-over part of history.
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