Review Blog

Feb 02 2018

My brigadista year by Katherine Paterson

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Walker Books, 2018. ISBN 9780763695088
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: Cuba, Literacy, Gap year, Volunteering, Civil war, Corruption. After Castro took power from the corrupt, USA supported leader, Batistia, things changed for Cuba. Castro wanted the country to become more literate and thousands of teens were recruited to go into rural Cuba and teach people to read and write. In this absorbing novel by the award winning Paterson, she tells the story of these brigadistas through the eyes of her central character, Lora. At thirteen she is caught up in the fervour of helping Cuba become literate, trained to be a teacher, given her supplies and a hammock and a brief knowledge of first aid, then sent to a village in the mountains, a place where anti Castro forces still exist, where one of the brigadistas was killed in the previous year. This is the first time she has left the safety of her home, and her parents are fearful for her, but she is determined to go.
Lora's story is deftly told. Paterson is able to diffuse complex ideas into an easily absorbed story. The reader learns about the background to this highly volatile situation, with arms supplied by the Americans to the anti Castro forces as Castro is seen as too Russian leaning for the USA, where the teachers sent are viewed with suspicion and must earn the trust of those they live with. Behind Lora's year in the jungle is the invasion of the Bay of Pigs (1961) and so the reader is able to absorb a different view of a little known historic incident.
Brought up with an anti Castro western view of Cuba, this little book offered me a a chance to reassess ideas held in the past, and for younger readers this is an historical novel of immense interest and research which will give readers a new perspective on why Trump and Obama have such differing views of the USA's relationship with Cuba.
The central character leads the way, developing skills necessary to live with an unknown family, learning their way of life, learning to fit in and to teach them the skills necessary for a modern Cuba.
And all the while is the threat from the terrorists in the mountains behind the village.
A wonderfully involving coming of age story, Paterson shares a background unique in children's literature.
Fran Knight

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