Raining Sardines, set in pre- revolutionary Cuba, 'Raining Sardines' received the America’s Award for YA literature for it’s accurate historical depiction of characters and events in a Latin American country.
Ernestina and Enriquito are as different as two people can be. Ernestina, the imaginative artist-dreamer, works from inspiration, while Enriquito the linear thinking, little engineer, plans, draws up lists, and gathers tools. Obstacles dissolve when they finally learn to combine their unique qualities. Ernestina and Enriquito follow a herd of wild Paso Fino Ponies to a secret valley where they discover Hatuey’s treasure. The best friends must outsmart the huge Caiman guarding the treasure, and with the help of the townspeople, the mayor and the Gringo, they foil Don Rigol and his daughter’s plan to clear-cut the mountain, then claim the treasure, and the ponies.
Most people don’t believe me when I tell them that on my first trip back to Havana, I could feel the ghosts whispering by me as I walked the once familiar streets. The ghosts rattled their satchels of bones, blew their stories into my ear and flushed the color and light back into my frozen memories. That’s when ‘Raining Sardines,’ was born. Then there are those who suspect that a novel named after a phenomenon as improbable as pigs flying would be just another magical tall tale made up out of thin air, the same air that ghosts breath. ‘Raining Sardines’ is based on reality– an interweavingof family stories, Cuban history, and scientific fact, but sometimesfacts are stranger than fiction. For instance, would you believe that a Cuban national hero who inspired legions of revolutionaries, can be found chilling in the foggy coolers of the better bodegas of my hometown New York? That frosty but handsome profile on bottles of Malta Hatuey, a sickly sweet malt drink belongs to the Hateuy, a proud cacique (leader) of the Tainos. To understand the full irony of his final resting place, you need to know a few of the facts of the life and fiery death of this almost mythical figure.
Hatuey witnessed the cruelty of the Spanish Conquistadors in Hispaniola and then rowed across the Windward Passage to warn his Cuban cousins of the coming plague. On a moonlight night he gathered the Tainos on the shore of a lake and gave an eloquent speech describing the ill treatment of his people at the hands of the gold crazed Spaniards, eloquently argued against the notion that they were gods. They were men he reasoned, but men that had been driven crazy by the god of gold. In conclusion he suggested that the only way to be free of the Spanish curse was to get rid of their gold. They danced all night in a great circle, threw their gold into the basket at Hatuey’s feet and then as the sun was rising they dropped the basket into a lake.
The first Cuban nationalist was eventually hunted down by the Spaniards, sentenced to death and tied to the stake. As the torchbearer approached, a priest promised him entry into heaven if he acknowledged Christ as his lord and savior. Of course Hatuey had to ask the logical question: “Will I find Spaniards in heaven?”
Upon receiving his answer, he nodded at the torch and famously ordered, “Light the fire.”
Hatuey’s words come down to us from the hand of Padre Bartolome de las Casas a Dominican priest who was the first advocate of the indigenous people in the New World. He faithfully recorded Hatuey’s eloquent speech and final words, as well as other eyewitness accounts of cruel encounters with the Tainos. These documents were presented to the King of Spain as a legal brief, a petition for the humane treatment of the Hatuey’s people.
Had it not been for de las Casas insistence on accurately recording the facts in the form of legal depositions, Hatuey’s story might have been considered just another apocryphal tale from an enchanted region whose image has sometimes been distorted by a little too much magic and not enough realism. Similarly, if it weren’t for scientific curiosity and an insistence on accurately recording the workings of the wind, waves and the ways of fish, we could not say with certainty that it not only rain sardines, but also lizards, toads and sometimes even small rodents.
There, now you know why Hatuey is in the freezer, and why I titled my first book Raining Sardines but as far as whispering ghosts, well, that’s a little harder to explain.