In order to understand the context of the book, you must understand the historical setting. This story is a fictionalized account of the first Caribbean Pirate shipwreck on Cuba in the 1500s. Most of the characters are actual people from history. The only fictional character is Quebrado.
In the beginning of the novel, we meet Quebrado, a slave aboard Bernardino de Talavera’s ship—the first pirate ship of the Caribbean. At this point, Bernardino has captured Alonso de Ojeda and is holding him hostage on the ship as well. Then the hurricane hits. The entire ship is destroyed, and all the surviving crew members have to fight to find shelter on a mysterious island (Cuba).
Quebrado is unique because he can speak two languages, one of which is the language of the “naturals” on the island. He is instantly welcomed by the tribe. Eventually Bernardino and Ojeda find Quebrado living among the tribe. The remainder of the story focuses on Quebrado’s attempts to find his new identity in the world and forgive his former captors. This is not the only story taking place within the novel, however. Being told simultaneously is the story of Narido and Caucubu, two lovers who are forbidden to be together.
Personally, I was only slightly interested in this novel. I think my lack of knowledge and interest in the historical context that the story was based on added to my half-hearted reading. The prose was well written and did carry a nice plot, and there were beautiful metaphors used throughout the novel. Also, I felt that there was a nice message hidden within the short text. Maybe I’m wrong, but I picked up on a hint of self-acceptance in the book's final poems. The final words in the novel are “I am whole,” which is a pretty significant, considering Quebrado's struggles.
My favorite quotes:
(pg. 6) “Sailors call me a boy/of broken dreams, / but I think of myself/ as a place—a strange place/ dreamed by the sea, / belonging nowhere, / half floating island/ and half/ wandering wind.”
(pg. 17) “Shackled to a rotting wall/ in the ship’s stinking hold, / I feel as helpless as a turtle/ flipped on its back, / awaiting the cook’s/ probing knife.”
(pg. 48) “The Woman of Wind/ taught all these creatures/ how to fly./ What will the hurricane/ teach me?”
(Pg. 60) “The storm-boy is young./ He has not yet learned/ that hope is stronger/ than fear.”