Anita’s Revolution targets young adult readers. It is a coming of awareness story—both in a personal context as well as a social one. It is also an historical fiction and a teen adventure. But travellers to Cuba of all ages will enjoy the story and gain insights into a past no longer evident, yet still in the memories of people they will meet. Writers of YA fiction will be interested in figuring out how Shirley Langer gets under the skin of her protagonist and how she creates a time and place that readers can experience. Pay attention, too, to her language, pacing, and the literary techniques she employs to keep youth interested and turning pages.
Anita, the protagonist of Anita’s Revolution, is a young teen in 1960 when Fidel Castro announces to the United Nations and the world that Cuba will stamp out illiteracy by the end of 1961. To accomplish this extraordinary goal, he elicits the aid of Cuba’s youth. In 1961 more than 100,000 volunteers answered the call—many of them students, along with teachers and others. They streamed across the island with energy and enthusiasm. The fictional Anita is one of them.
Anita must overcome her own fear given the real danger of volunteering, since counter-revolutionaries have killed a young brigadista. She must also overcome the concerns of her parents. She joins forces with her brother and they win their parents over, even if a bit reluctantly. With others from her school, Anita sets off for training and for the adventure of her life. Anita is a determined girl. Besides the literacy focus, Anita’s Revolution, takes us along on a journey from the innocence of a protected childhood to the awakening of a young woman.
Besides Anita’s personal story, Anita’s Revolution is a social justice story, and a story that demonstrates the very positive difference youth can make in a society. She arrived, not exactly welcomed by the people she would teach to read and write. But when she left, she left family behind.
Anita returned to her suburb of Havana knowing that more needed to be accomplished and wondering how she’d adjust into her relatively privileged life. The story doesn’t end like a fairy tale; it presents a believable girl in a real situation with the ideals and dreams of youth, but the bigger job beyond literacy isn’t finished.
Shirley Langer lived in Cuba for five years in the 1960s and writes with the immediacy of knowing a time and place. She writes with the knowledge of having lived among the people of whom she writes. During my research, I learned that she also lived for a period in the Bay of Quinte region (Ontario, Canada), which is my home. Langer has lived at Victoria (British Columbia, Canada) since 1995.
Available through your local bookstore or online: Anita’s Revolution
Cuba aficionados will also want to see my review of A Simple Habana Melody for a pre-revolutionary novel. And perhaps two of my travel blogs: A Cultural Portal: Windows and Doors and scroll through my travel blog.
Readers and writers of YA fiction, will want to take another look at The Great and the Small, a YA novel by A.T. Balsara that I reviewed last February.
“Pain shrinks the heart. This, I believe, is part of the intention. You make a man disappear to silence him but also to narrow the minds of those left behind, to pervert their soul and limit their imagination.”
In The Return, Hisham Matar provides two stories: the story of Libya and the story of a dissidents’ disappearance and the family left behind. We gain more than a glimpse into Libya’s history – from its little know past and vague borders through the Italian-colonial period, revolts and coups, to political intrigue involving Egypt and Britain, to cultural insights into the Bedoin and a family saga, the impact of exile (“Guilt is exile’s eternal companion.”) and especially the struggle of a man to find his father.
Hisham Matar is a young man studying in London when his father disappears from the family’s exile in Egypt. At the time, Libya has been taken over by Gaddafi. Much of the first part of the book looks back at the history of both the country and the family. Of his father, he writes that “he was a writer responding to ghosts and to history.” As the story progresses, Matar questions official stories and contemplates what happens to those left after the disappearances of dissidents: the dearth of creativity, the shrivelling of the soul.
Through the passing years, Matar waffles emotionally, often succumbing to the likeliness that his father is dead. “But then hope, cunning and persistent, crept back in… .” We ride emotional storms and political frustrations as the search moves from a personal one to an international one. Slowly, over decades, facts leak out, and eventually there is a regime change. The son makes a visit to the now-empty prison.
Abu Salim is the last place Jaballa Matar was known to be alive. It’s the site of the massacre of 1,270 prisoners, “the incident that all those years ago had started a chain of events that ultimately led to the overthrow of Gaddafi.” He visits the prison but fails to find closure: “The body of my father is gone, but his place is here and occupied by something that cannot just be called memory.” And later: “My father is both dead and alive… . I live, as we all live, in the aftermath.”
Matar’s writing and research skills are clear throughout The Return (as they are in his novel In the Country of Men that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.) The memoir attempts a balancing act. However, I frequently found that he succumbs to an emotionally flat tone, and I wonder if it is a way to maintain a distance from the pain of loss and of grief forever raw and unresolved. But this is a small complaint given the scope of the story, its range across time, generations, the personal and the political.
Available through your local bookstore or online: The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between