During the midst of the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960s, thousands of children were sent alone to live with relatives or be taken in by aid agencies in the U. S. The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, tells the fictional story of two of these children.
When the revolution first began, life didn’t change much in the Alvarez household. Lucia still read fashion magazines with her best friend Ivette, and Lucia’s little brother Frankie liked riding his bike and spying on soldiers. But eventually they began to notice more tension in their home as their father came under increasing pressure at work. Their parents’ friends began disappearing, and kids their age start joining a revolutionary youth corps before their parents decided that Lucie and Frankie would leave their home to live with a foster family in the U.S.
Gonzalez’s vivid prose brings Cuba of the 1960s to life with all its vibrant colors, spicy food, and tropical climate all in a backdrop of revolutionary tensions. No one knows who to trust anymore; even family members and best friends turn against each other. Each chapter starts with a headline about Cuba pulled from newspapers across the U.S. It’s a great way to compare how the revolution was viewed in this country as compared to how it was being experienced by Cubans.
Through Lucia’s eyes you fall in love with the Cuba she longs to have back again and worry for the family and friends she leaves behind. As Lucia and Frankie struggle to adjust in a country where they barely speak the language and a state where it snows in winter, they also learn the outside world’s perspective of their homeland.
Gonzalez based her story on the experiences of her parents and thousands of other children who came to the U.S. in a program known as Operation Pedro Pan. The tale she weaves in The Red Umbrella is more than great historical fiction about an event that still affects the lives of Cubans and Cuban exiles, it is also a tribute to the courage the children of exile showed in the face of immense uncertainty and upheaval. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 14.