This is a novel in prose poems based on Frederica Bremer’s trip to Cuba where she encounters slavery and the controlled lives of Cuban women. Frederica, who lived in the 1800’s, was “Sweden’s first woman novelist and one of the world’s earliest advocates for women.”
The story alternates among four viewpoints: Frederica Bremer; Elena—daughter of a sugar plantation owner in Cuba; Cecelia—a slave traded for a stolen cow by her father in an African village, then transported on a slave ship and purchased by the Cuban plantation owner; and Beni—the male slave chosen by the plantation owner to marry Cecelia.
Fireflies, used to adorn the hair of women, or put into jars by children as entertainment, are an effective metaphor woven through the story. Frederica’s presence affects Elena’s family and Cecelia’s relationship with her husband in different and interesting ways. The lives of these three women begin differently, as you would expect, then draw together to a bittersweet ending. Favorite line: “What will she be without her parent’s illusions?”
—Kari Baumbach, children’s literature enthusiast
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