Antonio Chuffat is a half Chinese (chino) half African (africano) boy, born and raised by his Chinese father in Cuba. His ancestors immagrated from Asia and Africa. He is Cuban born, yet he feels different than others born on what he calls the "Island of Death".
Every day as Antonio runs from plantation to plantation for his job as a messenger, he feels pain for his fellow chinos and africanos who are enslaved. Antonio wants to fight, but doesn't know if he is a brave lion-warrior, or a peaceful peacock.
Wing, a young Chinese fruit seller, has dreams as well. He dreams of revenge towards the ones who murdered his brother in the anti-Asian riots in San Francisco. His mother who passed away on their flight from San Francisco haunts his memory and fills his life with rage. Wing dreams of being a lion-warrior and joining the rebels fighting for the right of the chinos.
Fan, Wing’s female twin, doesn’t hold many dreams of helping those suffering under the oppression of the Spanish and American people. Fan sings of her pain, etching her angry, passionate words in the mud with Chinese characters. When she finds a job working as a singer in a Chinese auditorium, life seems to be looking up for her, a penny at a time.
The three friends start a kind of underground railroad system, saving one slave at a time, and hiding them until they are able to catch the next ship out of Cuba to a free world.
Soon, a couple slaves a year isn’t enough. The ambitious Wing makes the trek over the mountains to join the rebel army as a lion warrior. Antonio finds work as a listener. He runs to every plantation, listening and taking in the horrors which innocent chinos reveal to him and takes the stories back to Chin Lan Pin, a peacock man. Antonio hopes that these stories will be printed so everyone can read of the horrors and make a difference in millions of lives. Antonio becomes a warrior of words. Meanwhile, Fan keeps singing and her powerful songs touch hearts and open minds. Alone, she keeps on rescuing one slave at a time.
These friends are all warriors in their own way, doing their part to save millions of enslaved lives.
Lion Island is a story of power, bravery, strength and determination. The book unfolds with elegance and strength, showing the passion that Antonio, Wing, and Fan feel as they go against the law to save their own. Each character has a different personality and skillset. Fan is a character who never sets limits too high, but always fulfills her promises. She is the most loyal character in this book. Wing is a difficult character because of the rage that fills his heart and the revenge that clouds his brain. Wing is a fighter, driven by anger. Wing won’t stop until he fulfills what he sets out to do. Antonio is a free-born boy with dreams to make others free too. He makes many promises to himself, many of which he can’t make happen. Antonio is confused, not knowing in the beginning of the book if he is a warrior of fire or words.
What I love about this book is the power behind every word. Every word has a meaning and inspired passion in me as I read of the horrors going on in that time. It almost brought me to tears when I found out that this story was close to true, and that these outrageous events actually happened in Cuban history. This book made a mark on my soul. Engle writes with such passion and power, pouring her soul into the pages. I felt the confusion and anger rolling off the pages and settling in my heart.
I will never forget this story of hope, peace, love, anger, grief, and victory. Within these very pages is the soul of a young boy, fighting for freedom and life.