Dreams from many rivers by Margarita Engle. Illus. by Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez

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Subtitled, A Hispanic history of the United States told in poems, this attractive hard cover book invites the reader to broaden their horizons and question the beginnings of the USA as portrayed in history books and on film and television. Puerto Rico, a territory of the USA has been settled for more than five centuries, preceding The Mayflower and Plymouth Rock, while the Indigenous history of the USA goes back millennia. But their voices are rarely heard. Engle in presenting this book of her poems aims to give readers a few glimpses of this country’s vast and complex past. After reading extensively from diaries, journals, history books and numerous firsthand accounts, she has built up an exciting book of poems reflecting a history often left unheard, and using many perspectives, not just those of the downtrodden. We hear voices from places as diverse as Boriken (Pueto Rico) in 1491, Mexico in 1812, Montana in 1900, Rhode Island in 1962 promoting through the poetry a sympathy for those affected.

And this is done beautifully. Some of the images presented in the poems are breathtaking: the opening poem 'Courage' ends with the line ‘there will be time enough for courage when I grow old’, written for a 1491 Perto Rican man. Or the Mexican view of slavery introduced by the squatters, expressed in Lawbreakers, 1829 as he watches the men, women and children forced to work in ‘fiercely hot, dusty, miserable cotton fields.’ And The Triumph of Children set in Puerto Rica in 1915, when children refused to go to school where they were forced to use English.

Each poem sings with a perspective not often heard, a voice reflecting those often mute, denied by their ethnic background or socio economic status, a place where their voice can be heard.

A well produced book of poems that will enlighten and entertain, beautifully illustrated by Beatriz Hernandez.

Themes: Verse novel, Poetry, Indigenous themes, Puerto Rica, USA, Hispanic history.

Fran Knight