Caramelo

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Overview

The celebrated author of The House on Mango Street gives us an extraordinary new novel, told in language of blazing originality: a multigenerational story of a Mexican-American family whose voices create a dazzling weave of humor, passion, and poignancy–the very stuff of life.
Lala Reyes’ grandmother is descended from a family of renowned rebozo, or shawl, makers. The striped caramelo rebozo is the most beautiful of all, and the one that makes its way, like the family history it...
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New York, NY 2002 Hard cover First edition. Primera ed. New in new dust jacket. FIRST EDITION, FIRST PRINTING + BRAND NEW + ORIGINAL HARDBACK FORMAT; COLLECTING BOOKS SINCE ... 1988, SELLING BOOKS SINCE 2008 Text in English, Spanish. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 496 p. Audience: General/trade. Read more Show Less

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Caramelo: En Espanol

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Overview

The celebrated author of The House on Mango Street gives us an extraordinary new novel, told in language of blazing originality: a multigenerational story of a Mexican-American family whose voices create a dazzling weave of humor, passion, and poignancy–the very stuff of life.
Lala Reyes’ grandmother is descended from a family of renowned rebozo, or shawl, makers. The striped caramelo rebozo is the most beautiful of all, and the one that makes its way, like the family history it has come to represent, into Lala’s possession. The novel opens with the Reyes’ annual car trip–a caravan overflowing with children, laughter, and quarrels–from Chicago to “the other side”: Mexico City. It is there, each year, that Lala hears her family’s stories, separating the truth from the “healthy lies” that have ricocheted from one generation to the next. We travel from the Mexico City that was the “Paris of the New World” to the music-filled streets of Chicago at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties–and, finally, to Lala’s own difficult adolescence in the not-quite-promised land of San Antonio, Texas.
Caramelo is a romantic tale of homelands, sometimes real, sometimes imagined. Vivid, funny, intimate, historical, it is a brilliant work destined to become a classic: a major new novel from one of our country’s most beloved storytellers.

Author Biography: Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954. Internationally acclaimed for her poetry and fiction, she has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Lannan Foundation Literary Award and the American Book Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacArthur Foundation. Cisneros is the author of The House on Mango Street, Loose Woman, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, and a children's book, Hairs/Pelitos.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
"This book," Eduardo Galeano writes, "is a crowded train, a never-stop round-trip train going and coming back and going again between Mexico and the U.S.A., across the frontiers of land and time: full of voices, full of music, made from memory, making life." Anyone who has ever read a Sandra Cisneros novel knows these large families, with their noisy gatherings, and their weekend feasts of renewal.
Publishers Weekly
With the ability to make listeners laugh out loud with her humor, get lumps in their throats with her poignancy and leave them thinking about her characters long after they've hit the stop button, Cisneros is a master storyteller and performer. Her sweeping tale of the Reyes family, with the charmingly innocent Lala Reyes at its center, moves from 1920s Mexico City and Acapulco to 1950s Chicago, all the while grounding the family's whimsical events with "notes" to help readers understand the greater significance of, say, a nightclub singer who snagged Lala's grandfather's heart or the Mexican government's initiative to build a network of highways throughout the country. Cisneros (The House on Mango Street) reads her flowing text in an often ebullient voice, recounting the sights and sounds of Mexico City's boisterous streets or performing one of the many grand-scale arguments Lala's parents have. Her voices are marvelous. She perfectly portrays the Awful Grandmother's bitterness (the old lady loved to remind her son, "Wives come and go, but mothers, you have only one!") and sweetly croons the birthday songs Lala and her brothers sing to their father. This is a treat of an audio, combining a fantastic narrative with an equally excellent reading. Based on the Knopf hardcover (Forecasts, Aug. 12, 2002). (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Criticas
American novelist, essayist, and poet Cisneros has been acclaimed for bringing the perspective of Chicana women into the mainstream with works such as La casa en Mango Street (The House on Mango Street, Vintage Espa ol, 1994). Here, she tells the multigenerational story of a working-class immigrant Mexican family through the eyes of granddaughter Lala. Cisneros describes the complexity of an "in-between" world in which cultural and language exchanges between the United States and Mexico shape the ways family members communicate with one another. The original English-language text is flecked with Chicano slang and idioms that acquire poetic connotations within the narrative as a whole. Chicano language reflects the hybrid world of double references, of those who live in two countries at the same time, and, as award-winning poet and translator Valenzuela explains in her introductory note, this is "the authentic reality and unmistakable personality of the Mexican immigrant in the States." Valenzuela, who also translated Cisneros's El arroyo de la llorona (Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, Vintage Espa ol, 1996), here re-creates this unique border language by blending modern Mexican Spanish and the regionalisms and archaisms common to U.S. Chicanos (derived from sources that include N huatl and 17th-century Spanish) with English expressions. She achieves accurate phonetic transpositions "Guat's a matter" for "what's the matter" and "seim tu yu moder!" for "same to you mother!" as well as alliterations, assonances (chequear for "check"), and onomatopoeic sounds ("chas, chas" for snipping scissors). Valenzuela also leaves Cisneros's blend of English and Spanish words ("mop" becomesmopear and felicidades turns into "happinesses") and, in many cases, mixes both languages following a Spanish syntax, as in "Tengo sleepy" ("I am sleepy"). However, she is always careful that the terms she uses mero ("simple"), hocicona ("big mouth"), and g era ("a light-skinned person"), for instance are of Mexican origin instead of drawing on other Latin American Spanish. In addition to effectively reproducing Cisneros's manipulation of linguistic codes, Valenzuela also manages to convey her sensual descriptions, dialog, and the emphasis she puts on odors, colors, and textures. The innovative footnotes, with references to Mexican politics and customs and pop culture icons like Clark Gable, Elvis, and P nfila Palafox, are worth noting, as they capture the idiosyncrasies of the Mexican American mindset. Just as the English-language version of this book conveys Chicano culture and concerns to a wider American audience, this excellent translation distills the border experiences for Spanish speakers. An essential addition to all libraries and bookstores interested in contemporary Mexican American fiction and Chicano dialects. [The English-language edition was published simultaneously by Knopf. Ed.] Isabel Cuadrado, New York City Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
This novel tells the story of Carmelo's life as a child of Mexican parents, growing up in Chicago and Texas, but steeped in the ancient culture of her family. Her childhood summers are spent in Mexico City when her entire family would make the long trip from Chicago in a caravan of cars to Awful Grandmother's house on Destiny Street. Her life becomes a blend of Mexican and American culture, simmered in the often boiling emotions of family love and spiced with her own personality and growing pains. The experience of being a child of immigrants, with its richness and identity crises, is told lovingly and with humor and in a language filled with images of Mexico and 1950s and '60s America. Jumping from Carmelo's childhood to the history of her grandparents and parents, to her adolescence, Cisneros creates a melange of family that retains the flavor of each individual character but expresses that strange blend that identifies each family as unique. KLIATT Codes: SA-Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, Vintage, 439p., Ages 15 to adult.
— Nola Theiss
From The Critics
Sandra Cisneros's protagonist, Celaya (Lala) Reyes, like Cisneros herself, experiences much of her childhood in Chicago. Lala's father is a furniture upholsterer who moves his family from Mexico City to Chicago and then to San Antonio in search of a better life. With six older brothers, Lala is her parents' youngest child and only daughter in a novel largely about family history and family stories (not necessarily the same thing) and how members of generations of a family interact. The title comes from Lala's fascination with her friend Candelaria's skin color, which is caramelo in Spanish, or caramel in English; Lala notices the various family branches of her relatives have various skin tones, depending on their heritage. Anyone who has ever gone on vacation to visit a family matriarch can relate to the Reyes family trips from Chicago to Mexico City to visit the "Awful Grandmother." And anyone who lives among multiple cultures will also relate to Lala's experience as a member of at least two very distinct cultures: Mexican and American. Due to its length and complexity, Caramelo may be more popular with older, more advanced high school readers. 2002, Knopf, 439 pp., Ages young adult.
—Melissa Noeth
Library Journal
Cisneros is a master of the short, imagistic piece depicting Mexican American life from an innocent, childlike point of view, as exhibited in her first novel, The House on Mango Street. In this, her quasi-autobiographical second work, the attempt to form similar fragments into more of a narrative whole presents some wonderful moments but ultimately falls far short. Part of the problem is embedded in her effort to tell a multigenerational story, flitting back and forth between characters with similar names, at various periods in their lives. But more to the point, the confusion stems from the lack of a good story to tell (unless we count the contrived device of a granddaughter trying to capture and embellish her grandmother's stories, or hints at an incident that came close to destroying her parents' marriage). These tapes require one's full attention, but the tale (with much repetition and snail-paced progression, hence little drama) refuses to captivate. What comes through as enthusiasm on the printed page seems overdramatized here, as Cisneros's voice rises and falls, attempting in vain to re-create each character's emotions. Since the book is nearly 450 pages long, a severely abridged audio version might be much more enjoyable.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A rich family tale, based on Cisneros's own childhood. Although lengthy, the book will appeal to many teens, particularly girls, because of its compelling coming-of-age theme and its array of eccentric, romantic characters. Celaya Reyes, called LaLa, is the youngest and the only girl among seven siblings. The book follows her from infancy to adolescence as she grows up in a noisy, disputatious, and loving clan of Mexican Americans struggling to be successful in the United States while remaining true to their cultural heritage. The Reyes's annual car journey from Chicago to Mexico City for a visit with the matriarch known as "The Awful Grandmother" is both a trial and a treat for LaLa. The imaginative and sensitive girl often feels lost within the family hilarity and histrionics, but she gradually forms an uneasy bond with her grandmother, inheriting from her the family stories, legends, and scandals. Eventually LaLa fashions these into a weave of "healthy lies" that chronicles the movements and adventures, both factual and imaginary, of several lively generations above and below the border. Her telling is a skillful blending of many narrative threads, creating a whole as colorful and charming as the heirloom striped shawl that gives the novel its title.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus
A family saga with a zesty Mexican-American accent ... Cisneros' keen eye enlivens descriptions of everything from Chicago's famed Maxwell Street flea market to a sun-stroked house on [Mexico City's] Destiny Street. Stylistically original ... casually bilingual.... [Cisneros shows that] the only way to cope is with a robust sense of humor. As [one character] says 'You're the author of the telenovela of your life. Comedy or tragedy? Choose.' Readers here get both: 'Life was cruel. And hilarious all at once.'
From the Publisher
“A lavish, richly textured meditation on family and culture. ”
—Ilan Stavans, The Nation

“There’s certainly much in this long-awaited ‘big’ novel from San Antonio’s Sandra Cisneros. So much incident. So many narrative rabbit trails. So much humor. So much play of language. And, yes, so much humanity.”
—Fritz Lanham, Houston Chronicle

“Bottom line: rich and bittersweet.”
—Julie K. L. Dam, People

Caramelo is a novel worthy of the tremendous anticipation that’s built up [around it]. It’s a swirling dinner-table collection of family tales, full of tears and laughter.”
—Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor

“Cisneros’ finest skill is her descriptive language. It conjures up gorgeous visions of colors and forms…Her use of color, scent, sound and touch is breathtaking…These vignettes remind us that Cisneros is a writer for all people. This is a novel of families, home life and finding yourself in the world’s greater landscape.”
—Carol Memmott, USA Today

“Ten years in the making, Sandra Cisneros’s second novel bursts from between its covers with all the energy of a riotous family fiesta. Emotions are in living color—raw, intricate and as brightly variegated as that most desirable of rebozos—the shawl they call the caramelo. This long-awaited second novel is potentially a watershed in U.S. Latino literature….”
—Adriana Lopez, Washington Post Book World

“Imaginative…charming…Cisneros weaves tales from her own childhood with fabulous fiction, whipping up the story of Lala and her eccentric Mexican and Mexican-American family. Guided by Lala’s narration of her grandparents’ and parents’ histories, Caramelo engages in a kind of playfulness (‘Tell me a story, even if it's a lie’ is the quote that opens the book) that is utterly bewitching.”
—Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Entertainment Weekly

“With Caramelo, her exuberant, overstuffed novel, Cisneros undertakes storytelling on a grand scale, detailing the struggles and joys of three generations of a family, evoking a subtle panorama of cultural shifts. Her characters leap from the page in all their flawed humanity, falling in and out of love, squabbling and making up, working hard and making do.”
—Jane Ciabattari, Los Angeles Times

“It is Cisneros’ unique use of language that lifts Caramelo from the category of a very fine novel and situates it among the great literature of our time.”
—Margaret Randall, The Women’s Review of Books

“It’s as if she has poured her entire life into a metafictional fable that combines the thematic richness of the most ambitious literature with the delight in character and plot of the most engrossing page-turner.”
—Don McLeese, Chicago Sun-Times

“Lovingly, passionately woven…this is a huge, pan-generational, big-shouldered effort about identity, loyalty, loss, truth-telling, story-telling and, of course, memory, a little history, a little more gossip, a few terrible secrets and a thousand ‘healthy lies’ all pieced together into something as multishaded, raw-edged and timeless as that heirloom, great-grandmother’s caramelo shawl.”
—Margaria Fichtner, The Miami Herald

“A joyful, fizzy American novel. Cisneros writes poetry as well as prose, and her language is a lovely fusion of Spanish and English, idea and emotion, geography and spirit…This is one of those novels that blithely leap across the border between literary and popular fiction…Vivid…boisterous….playful…a delicious reminder that ‘American’ applies to plenty of territory beyond the borders of the United States.”
—Valerie Sayers, The New York Times Book Review

“Poet and writer Cisneros's sprawling, spirited Caramelo, her first novel since her hugely successful The House on Mango Street, revisits Chicago's Mexican-American community—this time to retrace the story of the raucous, loving family of Lala Reyes, which stretches back through some tough years in San Antonio, Texas, to its roots in Mexico City…a tumultuous and eventful history. Vibrant and big-hearted like Lala herself, Cisneros's prose captures both the personal intimacies and the larger-than-life atmosphere of the Reyes family's passionate saga.”
—Lisa Shea, Elle

“Sandra Cisneros is like a bee that extracts new honey from old flowers. And Caramelo is like a Mexican candy that you suck slowly, savoring it under your tongue for hours; yet it is never sticky, never sugary nor sentimental. Cisneros possesses that most difficult ability—to allow us to imagine that which never existed.”

—Elena Poniatowska, author of Here’s to You, Jesusa

"Writers tell secrets, and in so doing, reaffirm the truths of our lives, the strength of love, the marvel of endurance, and the power of generations. In Caramelo, Sandra Cisneros sings to my blood. Her words are sweet and filling, not sugar-driven but as substantial as meat on the bone. Hers is the kind of family I know well—people who love and hate with their whole souls, who struggle and make over with every generation. She has done them justice on the page; she has given them to us whole."
—Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina

"It's a crazy, funny and remarkable folk-saga of Mexican migrants told by a curious little girl who has the wisdom of an old grandma. Beginning on Highway 66, it's a salsified variant on the Joad family's odyssey, zigzagging from Chicago to Mexico City and back. It's all about la vida, the life of 'honorable labor.' It's a beautiful tale of all migrants caught between here and there."
—Studs Terkel, author of Will the Circle be Unbroken

"This book is a crowded train, a never-stop round-trip train going and coming back and going again between Mexico and the USA, across the frontiers of land and time: full of voices, full of music, made from memory, making life."
—Eduardo Galeano, author of Memory of Fire and Upside Down

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375415098
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/1/2002
  • Language: Spanish
  • Edition description: Spanish-language Edition
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 1.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandra Cisneros
Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954. Internationally acclaimed for her poetry and fiction, she has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Lannan Foundation Literary Award and the American Book Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacArthur Foundation. Cisneros is the author of The House on Mango Street, Loose Woman, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, and a children's book, Hairs/Pelitos.

Biography

Sandra Cisneros' first novel, The House on Mango Street, brought an entirely new voice to American literature, describing the experience of narrator Esperanza Cordero, a Mexican American girl living a hardscrabble existence in Chicago. As Bebe Moore Campbell put it, in the New York Times Book Review: "She is not only a gifted writer, but an absolutely essential one."

The book bore the author's powerful descriptive talents: Comparing her house on Mango Street with the "real house" her parents had promised her, Esperanza notes, "The house on Mango street is not the way they told it at all. It's small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath."

Cisneros, who grew up in Chicago as the only daughter in a family of seven children, attended college on scholarship and was an ethnic anomaly as a graduate student at University of Iowa's renowned Writers' Workshop. There is a lyric quality to Cisneros' work that makes sense, given her alternate life as a poet who has published several volumes of poetry (two, 1980's Bad Boys and 1985's The Rodrigo Poems, are no longer in print).

As a poet, Cisneros has a staccato, highly evocative style. From "A Few Items to Consider," for example: "First there is the scent of barley/to remember. Barley and rain./The smooth terrain to recollect and savor./Unforgiving whiteness of the room./Ambiguity of linen. Purity./Mute and still as photographs on the moon." Cisneros suffuses her poetry and fiction with healthy dose of Spanish and a feminine sensibility, female narrators who remember everything and for whom no detail or sensation is too small. Paragraphs are often punctuated by lists and five-word snapshots. As Cisneros herself has said, she is a miniaturist.

Her poetry and a 1991 collection of stories, Woman Hollering Creek, would have to tide fans over until the long-awaited release of her second novel, 2002's Caramelo. Like her first novel, the story is narrated by a Mexican-American girl; but the scope is a broader one, covering generations of a family as viewed through a cherished caramelo rebozo, or striped traditional shawl, which has been passed down through generations to the book's heroine.

Caramelo has a comical and occasionally unconventional spirit to it, as when one of the characters in the story breaks in to complain about how she is being portrayed. The novel began as an exploration of her own family, and the connection to Cisneros' own life is evident. Here as in other work, Cisneros fills in the gaps between Mexico and the U.S., personal myth and reality.

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    1. Hometown:
      San Antonio, Texas
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 20, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chicago, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., Loyola University, 1976; M.F.A., University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1978

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Acuérdate de Acapulco,
de aquellas noches,
María bonita, María del alma;
acuérdate que en la playa,
con tus manitas las estrellitas
las enjuagabas.
-"María bonita," by Augustín Lara, version sung by the composer while playing the piano, accompanied by a sweet, but very, very sweet violin
**************
We're all little in the photograph above Father's bed. We were little in Acapulco. We will always be little. For him we are just as we were then.
Here are the Acapulco waters lapping just behind us, and here we are sitting on the lip of land and water. The little kids, Lolo and Memo, making devil horns behind each other's heads; the Awful Grandmother holding them even though she never held them in real life. Mother seated as far from her as politely possible; Toto slouched beside her. The big boys, Rafa, Ito, and Tikis, stand under the roof of Father's skinny arms. Aunty Light-Skin hugging Antonieta Araceli to her belly. Aunty shutting her eyes when the shutter clicks, as if she chooses not to remember the future, the house on Destiny Street sold, the move north to Monterrey.
Here is Father squinting that same squint I always make when I'm photographed. He isn't acabado yet. He isn't finished, worn from working, from worrying, from smoking too many packs of cigarettes. There isn't anything on his face but his face, and a tidy, thin mustache, like Pedro Infante, like Clark Gable. Father's skin pulpy and soft, pale as the belly side of a shark.
The Awful Grandmother has the same light skin as Father, but in elephant folds, stuffed into a bathing suit the color of an oldumbrella with an amber handle.
I'm not here. They've forgotten about me when the photographer walking along the beach proposes a portrait, un recuerdo, a remembrance literally. No one notices I'm off by myself building sand houses. They won't realize I'm missing until the photographer delivers the portrait to Catita's house, and I look at it for the first time and ask, -When was this taken? Where?
Then everyone realizes the portrait is incomplete. It's as if I didn't exist. It's as if I'm the photographer walking along the beach with the tripod camera on my shoulder asking, -¿Un recuerdo? A souvenir? A memory?
1.
Verde, Blanco, y Colorado
Uncle Fat-Face's brand-new used white Cadillac, Uncle Baby's green Impala, Father's red Chevrolet station wagon bought that summer on credit are racing to the Little Grandfather's and Awful Grandmother's house in Mexico City. Chicago, Route 66-Ogden Avenue past the giant Turtle Wax turtle-all the way to Saint Louis, Missouri, which Father calls by its Spanish name, San Luis. San Luis to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Dallas. Dallas to San Antonio to Laredo on 81 till we are on the other side. Monterrey. Saltillo. Matehuala. San Luis Potosí. Querétaro. Mexico City.
Every time Uncle Fat-Face's white Cadillac passes our red station wagon, the cousins-Elvis, Aristotle, and Byron-stick their tongues out at us and wave.
-Hurry, we tell Father. -Go faster!
When we pass the green Impala, Amor and Paz tug Uncle Baby's shoulder. -Daddy, please!
My brothers and I send them raspberries, we wag our tongues and make faces, we spit and point and laugh. The three cars-green Impala, white Cadillac, red station wagon-racing, passing each other sometimes on the shoulder of the road. Wives yelling, -Slower! Children
yelling, -Faster!
What a disgrace when one of us gets carsick and we have to stop the car. The green Impala, the white Caddy whooshing past noisy and happy as a thousand flags. Uncle Fat-Face toot-tooting that horn like crazy.
2.
Chillante
If we make it to Toluca, I'm walking to church on my knees.
Aunty Licha, Elvis, Aristotle, and Byron are hauling things out to the curb. Blenders. Transistor radios. Barbie dolls. Swiss Army Knives. Plastic crystal chandeliers. Model airplanes. Men's button-down dress shirts. Lace push-up bras. Socks. Cut-glass necklaces with matching earrings. Hair clippers. Mirror sunglasses. Panty girdles. Ballpoint pens. Eye shadow kits. Scissors. Toasters. Acrylic pullovers. Satin quilted bedspreads. Towel sets. All this besides the boxes of used clothing.
Outside, roaring like the ocean, Chicago traffic from the Northwest and Congress Expressways. Inside, another roar; in Spanish from the kitchen radio, in English from TV cartoons, and in a mix of the two from her boys begging for, -Un nikle for Italian lemonade. But Aunty Licha doesn't hear anything. Under her breath Aunty is bargaining,
-Virgen Purísima, if we even make it to Laredo, even that, I'll say three rosaries . . .
-Cállate, vieja, you make me nervous. Uncle Fat-Face is fiddling with the luggage rack on top of the roof. It has taken him two days to get everything to fit inside the car. The white Cadillac's trunk is filled to capacity. The tires sag. The back half of the car dips down low. There isn't room for anything else except the passengers, and even so, the cousins have to sit on top of suitcases.
-Daddy, my legs hurt already.
-You. Shut your snout or you ride in the trunk.
-But there isn't any room in the trunk.
-I said shut your snout!
To pay for the vacation, Uncle Fat-Face and Aunty Licha always bring along items to sell. After visiting the Little Grandfather and Awful Grandmother in the city, they take a side trip to Aunty Licha's hometown of Toluca. All year their apartment looks like a store. A year's worth of weekends spent at Maxwell Street flea market* collecting merchandise for the trip south. Uncle says what sells is lo chillante, literally the screaming. -The gaudier the better, says the Awful Grandmother. -No use taking anything of value to that town of Indians.
Each summer it's something unbelievable that sells like hot queques. Topo Gigio key rings. Eyelash curlers. Wind Song perfume sets. Plastic rain bonnets. This year Uncle is betting on glow-in-the-dark yo-yos.
Boxes. On top of the kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator, along the hallway walls, behind the three-piece sectional couch, from floor to ceiling, on top or under things. Even the bathroom has a special storage shelf high above so no one can touch.
In the boys' room, floating near the ceiling just out of reach, toys nailed to the walls with upholstery tacks. Tonka trucks, model airplanes, Erector sets still in their original cardboard boxes with the cellophane window. They're not to play with, they're to look at. -This one I got last Christmas, and that one was a present for my seventh birthday . . .
Like displays at a museum.
We've been waiting all morning for Uncle Fat-Face to telephone and say, -Quihubo, brother, vámonos, so that Father can call Uncle Baby and say the same thing. Every year the three Reyes sons and their families drive south to the Awful Grandmother's house on Destiny Street, Mexico City, one family at the beginning of the summer, one in the middle, and one at the summer's end.
-But what if something happens? the Awful Grandmother asks her husband.
-Why ask me, I'm already dead, the Little Grandfather says, retreating to his bedroom with his newspaper and his cigar. -You'll do what you want to do, same as always.
-What if someone falls asleep at the wheel like the time Concha Chacón became a widow and lost half her family near Dallas. What a barbarity! And did you hear that sad story about Blanca's cousins, eight people killed just as they were returning from Michoacán, right outside the Chicago city limits, a patch of ice and a light pole in some place called Aurora, pobrecitos. Or what about that station wagon full of gringa nuns that fell off the mountainside near Saltillo. But that was the old highway through the Sierra Madre before they built the new interstate.
All the same, we are too familiar with the roadside crosses and the stories they stand for. The Awful Grandmother complains so much, her sons finally give in. That's why this year Uncle Fat-Face, Uncle Baby, and Father-el Tarzán-finally agree to drive down together, although they never agree on anything.
-If you ask me, the whole idea stinks, Mother says, mopping the kitchen linoleum. She shouts from the kitchen to the bathroom, where Father is trimming his mustache over the sink.
-Zoila, why do you insist on being so stubborn? Father shouts into the mirror clouding the glass. -Ya verás. You'll see, vieja, it'll be fun.
-And stop calling me vieja, Mother shouts back. -I hate that word! I'm not old, your mother's old.
We're going to spend the entire summer in Mexico. We won't leave until school ends, and we won't come back until after it's started. Father, Uncle Fat-Face, and Uncle Baby don't have to report to the L. L. Fish Furniture Company on South Ashland until September.
-Because we're such good workers our boss gave us the whole summer off, imagine that.
But that's nothing but story. The three Reyes brothers have quit their jobs. When they don't like a job, they quit. They pick up their hammers and say, -Hell you . . . Get outta . . . Full of sheet. They are craftsmen. They don't use a staple gun and cardboard like the upholsterers in the U.S. They make sofas and chairs by hand. Quality work. And when they don't like their boss, they pick up their hammers and their time cards and walk out cursing in two languages, with tacks in the soles of their shoes and lint in their beard stubble and hair, and bits of string dangling from the hem of their sweaters.
But they didn't quit this time, did they? No, no. The real story is this. The bosses at the L. L. Fish Furniture Company on South Ashland have begun to dock the three because they arrive sixteen minutes after the hour, forty-three minutes, fifty-two, instead of on time. According to Uncle Fat-Face, -We are on time. It depends on which time you are on, Western time or the calendar of the sun. The L. L. Fish Furniture Company on South Ashland Avenue has decided they don't have time for the brothers Reyes anymore. -Go hell . . . What's a matter . . . Same to you mother!
It's the Awful Grandmother's idea that her mijos drive down to Mexico together. But years afterward everyone will forget and blame each other.
*The original Maxwell Street, a Chicago flea market for more than 120 years, spread itself around the intersections of Maxwell and Halsted Streets. It was a filthy, pungent, wonderful place filled with astonishing people, good music, and goods from don't-ask-where. Devoured by the growth of the University of Illinois, it was relocated, though the new Maxwell Street market is no longer on Maxwell Street and exists as a shadow of its former grime and glory. Only Jim's Original Hot Dogs, founded in 1939, stands where it always has, a memorial to Maxwell Street's funky past.
3.
Qué Elegante
Pouring out from the windows, "Por un amor" from the hi-fi, the version by Lola Beltrán, that queen of Mexican country, with tears in the throat and
a group of mariachis cooing, -But don't cry, Lolita, and Lola replying,
-I'm not crying, it's just . . . that I remember.
A wooden house that looks like an elephant sat on the roof. An apartment so close to the ground people knock on the window instead of the door. Just off Taylor Street. Not far from Saint Francis church of the Mexicans. A stone's throw from Maxwell Street flea market. The old Italian section of Chicago in the shadow of the downtown Loop. This is where Uncle Fat-Face, Aunty Licha, Elvis, Aristotle, and Byron live, on a block where everyone knows Uncle Fat-Face by his Italian nickname, Rico, instead of Fat-Face or Federico, even though "rico" means "rich" in Spanish, and Uncle is always complaining he is pobre, pobre. -It is no disgrace to be poor, Uncle says, citing the Mexican saying, -but it's very inconvenient.
-What have I got to show for my life? Uncle thinks. -Beautiful women I've had. Lots. And beautiful cars.
Every year Uncle trades his old Cadillac for a brand-new used
one. On the 16th of September, Uncle waits until the tail of the Mexican parade. When the last float is rolling toward the Loop, Uncle tags
along in his big Caddy, thrilled to be driving down State Street, the
top rolled down, the kids sitting in the back dressed in charro suits and
waving.
And as for beautiful women, Aunty Licha must be afraid he is thinking of trading her, too, and sending her back to Mexico, even though
she is as beautiful as a Mexican Elizabeth Taylor. Aunty is jealous of every woman, old or young, who comes near Uncle Fat-Face, though Uncle is almost bald and as small and brown as a peanut. Mother says, -If a woman's crazy jealous like Licha you can bet it's because someone's giving her reason to be, know what I mean? It's that she's from over there, Mother continues, meaning from the Mexican side, and not this side. -Mexican women are just like the Mexican songs, locas for love.
Once Aunty almost tried to kill herself because of Uncle Fat-Face. -My own husband! What a barbarity! A prostitute's disease from my own husband. Imagine! Ay, get him out of here! I don't ever want to see you again. ¡Lárgate! You disgust me, me das asco, you cochino! You're not fit to be the father of my children. I'm going to kill myself! Kill myself!!! Which sounds much more dramatic in Spanish. -¡Me mato! ¡¡¡Me maaaaaaaatoooooo!!! The big kitchen knife, the one Aunty dips in a glass of water to cut the boys' birthday cakes, pointed toward her own sad heart.
Too terrible to watch. Elvis, Aristotle, and Byron had to run for the neighbors, but by the time the neighbors arrived it was too late. Uncle Fat-Face sobbing, collapsed in a heap on the floor like a broken lawn chair, Aunty Licha cradling him like the Virgin Mary cradling Jesus after he was brought down from the cross, hugging that hiccuping head to her chest, murmuring in his ear over and over, -Ya, ya. Ya pasó. It's all over. There, there, there.
When Aunty's not angry she calls Uncle payaso, clown. -Don't be a payaso, she scolds gently, laughing at Uncle's silly stories, combing the few strands of hair left on his head with her fingers. But this only encourages Uncle to be even more of a payaso.
-So I said to the boss, I quit. This job is like el calzón de una puta. A prostitute's underwear. You heard me! All day long it's nothing but up and down, up and down, up and down . . .

Copyright© 2002 by Sandra CisnerosSandra Cisneros
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First Chapter

Chapter One

Acuérdate de Acapulco,

de aquellas noches,

María bonita, María del alma;

acuérdate que en la playa,

con tus manitas las estrellitas

las enjuagabas.


-"María bonita," by Augustín Lara, version sung by the composer while playing the piano, accompanied by a sweet, but very, very sweet violin

**************

We're all little in the photograph above Father's bed. We were little in Acapulco. We will always be little. For him we are just as we were then.

Here are the Acapulco waters lapping just behind us, and here we are sitting on the lip of land and water. The little kids, Lolo and Memo, making devil horns behind each other's heads; the Awful Grandmother holding them even though she never held them in real life. Mother seated as far from her as politely possible; Toto slouched beside her. The big boys, Rafa, Ito, and Tikis, stand under the roof of Father's skinny arms. Aunty Light-Skin hugging Antonieta Araceli to her belly. Aunty shutting her eyes when the shutter clicks, as if she chooses not to remember the future, the house on Destiny Street sold, the move north to Monterrey.

Here is Father squinting that same squint I always make when I'm photographed. He isn't acabado yet. He isn't finished, worn from working, from worrying, from smoking too many packs of cigarettes. There isn't anything on his face but his face, and a tidy, thin mustache, like Pedro Infante, like Clark Gable. Father's skin pulpy and soft, pale as the belly side of a shark.

The Awful Grandmother has the same light skin as Father, but in elephantfolds, stuffed into a bathing suit the color of an old umbrella with an amber handle.

I'm not here. They've forgotten about me when the photographer walking along the beach proposes a portrait, un recuerdo, a remembrance literally. No one notices I'm off by myself building sand houses. They won't realize I'm missing until the photographer delivers the portrait to Catita's house, and I look at it for the first time and ask, -When was this taken? Where?

Then everyone realizes the portrait is incomplete. It's as if I didn't exist. It's as if I'm the photographer walking along the beach with the tripod camera on my shoulder asking, -¿Un recuerdo? A souvenir? A memory?

1.

Verde, Blanco, y Colorado

Uncle Fat-Face's brand-new used white Cadillac, Uncle Baby's green Impala, Father's red Chevrolet station wagon bought that summer on credit are racing to the Little Grandfather's and Awful Grandmother's house in Mexico City. Chicago, Route 66-Ogden Avenue past the giant Turtle Wax turtle-all the way to Saint Louis, Missouri, which Father calls by its Spanish name, San Luis. San Luis to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Dallas. Dallas to San Antonio to Laredo on 81 till we are on the other side. Monterrey. Saltillo. Matehuala. San Luis Potosí. Querétaro. Mexico City.

Every time Uncle Fat-Face's white Cadillac passes our red station wagon, the cousins-Elvis, Aristotle, and Byron-stick their tongues out at us and wave.

-Hurry, we tell Father. -Go faster!

When we pass the green Impala, Amor and Paz tug Uncle Baby's shoulder. -Daddy, please!

My brothers and I send them raspberries, we wag our tongues and make faces, we spit and point and laugh. The three cars-green Impala, white Cadillac, red station wagon-racing, passing each other sometimes on the shoulder of the road. Wives yelling, -Slower! Children

yelling, -Faster!

What a disgrace when one of us gets carsick and we have to stop the car. The green Impala, the white Caddy whooshing past noisy and happy as a thousand flags. Uncle Fat-Face toot-tooting that horn like crazy.

2.

Chillante

If we make it to Toluca, I'm walking to church on my knees.

Aunty Licha, Elvis, Aristotle, and Byron are hauling things out to the curb. Blenders. Transistor radios. Barbie dolls. Swiss Army Knives. Plastic crystal chandeliers. Model airplanes. Men's button-down dress shirts. Lace push-up bras. Socks. Cut-glass necklaces with matching earrings. Hair clippers. Mirror sunglasses. Panty girdles. Ballpoint pens. Eye shadow kits. Scissors. Toasters. Acrylic pullovers. Satin quilted bedspreads. Towel sets. All this besides the boxes of used clothing.

Outside, roaring like the ocean, Chicago traffic from the Northwest and Congress Expressways. Inside, another roar; in Spanish from the kitchen radio, in English from TV cartoons, and in a mix of the two from her boys begging for, -Un nikle for Italian lemonade. But Aunty Licha doesn't hear anything. Under her breath Aunty is bargaining,

-Virgen Purísima, if we even make it to Laredo, even that, I'll say three rosaries . . .

-Cállate, vieja, you make me nervous. Uncle Fat-Face is fiddling with the luggage rack on top of the roof. It has taken him two days to get everything to fit inside the car. The white Cadillac's trunk is filled to capacity. The tires sag. The back half of the car dips down low. There isn't room for anything else except the passengers, and even so, the cousins have to sit on top of suitcases.

-Daddy, my legs hurt already.

-You. Shut your snout or you ride in the trunk.

-But there isn't any room in the trunk.

-I said shut your snout!

To pay for the vacation, Uncle Fat-Face and Aunty Licha always bring along items to sell. After visiting the Little Grandfather and Awful Grandmother in the city, they take a side trip to Aunty Licha's hometown of Toluca. All year their apartment looks like a store. A year's worth of weekends spent at Maxwell Street flea market* collecting merchandise for the trip south. Uncle says what sells is lo chillante, literally the screaming. -The gaudier the better, says the Awful Grandmother. -No use taking anything of value to that town of Indians.

Each summer it's something unbelievable that sells like hot queques. Topo Gigio key rings. Eyelash curlers. Wind Song perfume sets. Plastic rain bonnets. This year Uncle is betting on glow-in-the-dark yo-yos.

Boxes. On top of the kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator, along the hallway walls, behind the three-piece sectional couch, from floor to ceiling, on top or under things. Even the bathroom has a special storage shelf high above so no one can touch.

In the boys' room, floating near the ceiling just out of reach, toys nailed to the walls with upholstery tacks. Tonka trucks, model airplanes, Erector sets still in their original cardboard boxes with the cellophane window. They're not to play with, they're to look at. -This one I got last Christmas, and that one was a present for my seventh birthday . . .

Like displays at a museum.

We've been waiting all morning for Uncle Fat-Face to telephone and say, -Quihubo, brother, vámonos, so that Father can call Uncle Baby and say the same thing. Every year the three Reyes sons and their families drive south to the Awful Grandmother's house on Destiny Street, Mexico City, one family at the beginning of the summer, one in the middle, and one at the summer's end.

-But what if something happens? the Awful Grandmother asks her husband.

-Why ask me, I'm already dead, the Little Grandfather says, retreating to his bedroom with his newspaper and his cigar. -You'll do what you want to do, same as always.

-What if someone falls asleep at the wheel like the time Concha Chacón became a widow and lost half her family near Dallas. What a barbarity! And did you hear that sad story about Blanca's cousins, eight people killed just as they were returning from Michoacán, right outside the Chicago city limits, a patch of ice and a light pole in some place called Aurora, pobrecitos. Or what about that station wagon full of gringa nuns that fell off the mountainside near Saltillo. But that was the old highway through the Sierra Madre before they built the new interstate.

All the same, we are too familiar with the roadside crosses and the stories they stand for. The Awful Grandmother complains so much, her sons finally give in. That's why this year Uncle Fat-Face, Uncle Baby, and Father-el Tarzán-finally agree to drive down together, although they never agree on anything.

-If you ask me, the whole idea stinks, Mother says, mopping the kitchen linoleum. She shouts from the kitchen to the bathroom, where Father is trimming his mustache over the sink.

-Zoila, why do you insist on being so stubborn? Father shouts into the mirror clouding the glass. -Ya verás. You'll see, vieja, it'll be fun.

-And stop calling me vieja, Mother shouts back. -I hate that word! I'm not old, your mother's old.

We're going to spend the entire summer in Mexico. We won't leave until school ends, and we won't come back until after it's started. Father, Uncle Fat-Face, and Uncle Baby don't have to report to the L. L. Fish Furniture Company on South Ashland until September.

-Because we're such good workers our boss gave us the whole summer off, imagine that.

But that's nothing but story. The three Reyes brothers have quit their jobs. When they don't like a job, they quit. They pick up their hammers and say, -Hell you . . . Get outta . . . Full of sheet. They are craftsmen. They don't use a staple gun and cardboard like the upholsterers in the U.S. They make sofas and chairs by hand. Quality work. And when they don't like their boss, they pick up their hammers and their time cards and walk out cursing in two languages, with tacks in the soles of their shoes and lint in their beard stubble and hair, and bits of string dangling from the hem of their sweaters.

But they didn't quit this time, did they? No, no. The real story is this. The bosses at the L. L. Fish Furniture Company on South Ashland have begun to dock the three because they arrive sixteen minutes after the hour, forty-three minutes, fifty-two, instead of on time. According to Uncle Fat-Face, -We are on time. It depends on which time you are on, Western time or the calendar of the sun. The L. L. Fish Furniture Company on South Ashland Avenue has decided they don't have time for the brothers Reyes anymore. -Go hell . . . What's a matter . . . Same to you mother!

It's the Awful Grandmother's idea that her mijos drive down to Mexico together. But years afterward everyone will forget and blame each other.

*The original Maxwell Street, a Chicago flea market for more than 120 years, spread itself around the intersections of Maxwell and Halsted Streets. It was a filthy, pungent, wonderful place filled with astonishing people, good music, and goods from don't-ask-where. Devoured by the growth of the University of Illinois, it was relocated, though the new Maxwell Street market is no longer on Maxwell Street and exists as a shadow of its former grime and glory. Only Jim's Original Hot Dogs, founded in 1939, stands where it always has, a memorial to Maxwell Street's funky past.

3.

Qué Elegante

Pouring out from the windows, "Por un amor" from the hi-fi, the version by Lola Beltrán, that queen of Mexican country, with tears in the throat and

a group of mariachis cooing, -But don't cry, Lolita, and Lola replying,

-I'm not crying, it's just . . . that I remember.

A wooden house that looks like an elephant sat on the roof. An apartment so close to the ground people knock on the window instead of the door. Just off Taylor Street. Not far from Saint Francis church of the Mexicans. A stone's throw from Maxwell Street flea market. The old Italian section of Chicago in the shadow of the downtown Loop. This is where Uncle Fat-Face, Aunty Licha, Elvis, Aristotle, and Byron live, on a block where everyone knows Uncle Fat-Face by his Italian nickname, Rico, instead of Fat-Face or Federico, even though "rico" means "rich" in Spanish, and Uncle is always complaining he is pobre, pobre. -It is no disgrace to be poor, Uncle says, citing the Mexican saying, -but it's very inconvenient.

-What have I got to show for my life? Uncle thinks. -Beautiful women I've had. Lots. And beautiful cars.

Every year Uncle trades his old Cadillac for a brand-new used

one. On the 16th of September, Uncle waits until the tail of the Mexican parade. When the last float is rolling toward the Loop, Uncle tags

along in his big Caddy, thrilled to be driving down State Street, the

top rolled down, the kids sitting in the back dressed in charro suits and

waving.

And as for beautiful women, Aunty Licha must be afraid he is thinking of trading her, too, and sending her back to Mexico, even though

she is as beautiful as a Mexican Elizabeth Taylor. Aunty is jealous of every woman, old or young, who comes near Uncle Fat-Face, though Uncle is almost bald and as small and brown as a peanut. Mother says, -If a woman's crazy jealous like Licha you can bet it's because someone's giving her reason to be, know what I mean? It's that she's from over there, Mother continues, meaning from the Mexican side, and not this side. -Mexican women are just like the Mexican songs, locas for love.

Once Aunty almost tried to kill herself because of Uncle Fat-Face. -My own husband! What a barbarity! A prostitute's disease from my own husband. Imagine! Ay, get him out of here! I don't ever want to see you again. ¡Lárgate! You disgust me, me das asco, you cochino! You're not fit to be the father of my children. I'm going to kill myself! Kill myself!!! Which sounds much more dramatic in Spanish. -¡Me mato! ¡¡¡Me maaaaaaaatoooooo!!! The big kitchen knife, the one Aunty dips in a glass of water to cut the boys' birthday cakes, pointed toward her own sad heart.

Too terrible to watch. Elvis, Aristotle, and Byron had to run for the neighbors, but by the time the neighbors arrived it was too late. Uncle Fat-Face sobbing, collapsed in a heap on the floor like a broken lawn chair, Aunty Licha cradling him like the Virgin Mary cradling Jesus after he was brought down from the cross, hugging that hiccuping head to her chest, murmuring in his ear over and over, -Ya, ya. Ya pasó. It's all over. There, there, there.

When Aunty's not angry she calls Uncle payaso, clown. -Don't be a payaso, she scolds gently, laughing at Uncle's silly stories, combing the few strands of hair left on his head with her fingers. But this only encourages Uncle to be even more of a payaso.

-So I said to the boss, I quit. This job is like el calzón de una puta. A prostitute's underwear. You heard me! All day long it's nothing but up and down, up and down, up and down . . .

Copyright© 2002 by Sandra Cisneros
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Introduction

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“Joyful, fizzy.... This is one of those novels that blithely leap across the border between literary and popular fiction.” —The New York Times Book Review

Sandra Cisneros, the award-winning author of the highly acclaimed The House on Mango Street and several other esteemed works, has produced a stunning new novel, Caramelo. This long-anticipated novel is an all-embracing epic of family history, Mexican history, the immigrant experience, and a young Mexican-American woman’s road to adulthood. We hope the following introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography enhance your group’s reading of this captivating and masterful literary work.

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Foreword

1. From the novel’s opening epigraph—“Tell me a story, even it it’s a lie”—to its end, the relationship between truth, lies, history, and storytelling is an important theme. Posits Celaya, “Did I dream it or did someone tell me the story? I can’t remember where the truth ends and the talk begins” [p. 20]. And while she is assuring us, “I wish I could tell you about this episode in my family’s history, but nobody talks about it, and I refuse to invent what I don’t know” [p. 134], she also acknowledges, “The same story becomes a different story depending on who is telling it” [p. 156]. For example, clearly the Awful Grandmother is sugarcoating the truth about her marriage to Narciso [p. 171]. What other aspects of the novel are evidently “untruthful”? Is the reader to believe that Caramelo is just a “different kind of lie” [p. 246]?

2. Celaya says, “I’m not ashamed of my past. It’s the story of my life I’m sorry about” [p. 399]. What’s the difference?

3. The narrative transitions from one storyteller’s point of view, or voice, to another’s in different parts of the story. For example, in Chapter 22, Celaya as the storyteller engages in a dialogue with the Awful Grandmother about the way the grandmother’s story is being told [pp. 91–123]. Then, in Chapter 29, Narciso begins to tell his own story of when he lived in Chicago [p. 137]. And later, in Chapters 37–45, the dialogue between Celaya and the Awful Grandmother returns. Celaya seems to find her own voice and point of view in Chapter 59.What does the author achieve by shifting the viewpoint from character to character? How does the tone change to reflect the voices of a poor Mexican orphan, a young officer in the Mexican army, an American teenage girl, and others? How does this narrative device affect the reader’s ability to sympathize or empathize with the characters?

4. Often elements of one person’s life are echoed later in the story, in either the same character’s life or in another character’s. For example, Cisneros uses the same sentence—“And it was good and joyous and blessed”—to describe Grandmother’s first sexual encounter with Narciso [p. 154] and later her death [p. 348]. And the argument between Mother and Celaya [p. 359] echoes the earlier argument between Aunty Light-Skin and the Awful Grandmother [p. 262]. Where are there other examples of this repetition within the novel? What themes does this structural repetition help convey?

5. The family history that forms the central story line of Caramelo is structured in part chronologically and in part by the relationships formed by different family members. As our narrator informs us: “Because a life contains a multitude of stories and not a single strand explains precisely the who of who one is, we have to examine the complicated loops that allowed Regina to become la Señora Reyes” [p. 115]. Does this nonlinear plot structure support the assertion that family and history are without beginning, middle, or end, but are, rather, a “pattern” [p. 399]?

6. How does the historical chronology at the end of the novel edify the Reyes family events that take place within the body of the narrative—and vice versa? In other words, since the reader probably read the story before the chronology, how do the fictional family events illuminate the factual chronology of United States and Mexican history? Is Caramelo like or different from other historical fictions, such as Alex Haley’s Roots, with which the reader might be familiar?

7. The theme expressed in the following statement is reemphasized throughout the novel: “We are all born with our destiny. But sometimes we have to help our destiny a little” [p. 106]. For example, Viva tells Celaya: “I believe in destiny as much as you do, but sometimes you’ve gotta help your destiny along” [p. 345]. What exactly is the nature or power of the “destiny” that the characters seem to revere? Who or what is really in control of the lives and histories portrayed? How is destiny different for Celaya, her grandmother, her parents, and her friend Viva? Celaya says of Ernesto: “He was my destiny, but not my destination” [p. 399]. What is the difference?

8. How does the oft-repeated phrase “just enough, but not too much” [e.g., p. 29] describe the kind of person the Awful Grandmother is? What aspects, if any, of the Awful Grandmother’s life story parallel Celaya’s life story? Are the Awful Grandmother and Celaya alike in character, and if so, in what ways? How does Celaya, who upon her grandmother’s death “can’t think of anything to say for my grandmother who is simply my father’s mother and nothing to me” [p. 350], ultimately come to feel that she’s “turned into her. And [can] see inside her heart” [p. 424]? What does the Awful Grandmother teach Celaya about herself?

9. Celaya writes, “On Sunday mornings other families go to church. We go to Maxwell Street” [p. 294]. Does she relate this cynically or humorously, or both? What religious beliefs does Celaya hold? How is her faith or religion different from Zoila’s, who is portrayed as having no faith at all [Chapter 62], or from the faith or religion of the Awful Grandmother [see, for example, p. 191]?

10. What is the role played in the novel by the various Mexican or Mexican-American figures of popular culture who have encounters with members of the Reyes family? How does Cisneros use these characters to convey both the individuality as well as the universality of the Mexican-American immigrant experience?

11. The characters in Caramelo make frequent observations about Mexicans. For example, Zoila asserts that “all people from Mexico City are liars” [p. 353], and Celaya comments “We’re so Mexican. So much left unsaid” [p. 428]. With what tone do the characters deliver these types of generalizations, and how are they to be interpreted? Why might these characters portray their native countrymen in this way? Do people of other cultures make similarly deprecating comments, and what purpose might making such comments serve for such people?

12. How does the Reyes family view the United States as compared to Mexico? How are the two countries portrayed in Caramelo on both political and social levels? Celaya observes that “[e]veryone in Chicago lived with an idea of being superior to someone else, and they did not, if they could help it, live on the same block without of lot of readjustments, of exceptions made for the people they know by name instead of as ‘those so-and so’s’” [p. 289–290]. Is this different or similar to how people from different classes or ethnicities (such as the Indians) in Mexico City treat or view each other?

13. The Reyes family members move fluidly throughout the book between Mexico and the United States. Does the ease of such movement diminish for each generation? How does the immigration of Inocencio and his siblings and first cousins reflect immigration between the countries in the middle part of the twentieth century, and how has immigration to the United States from Mexico changed today? How do the changes in immigration reflect the changes in the relationship between the countries? How does Caramelo reflect the immigrant experience generally for the middle part of the twentieth century, and how have changes within the United States both socially and politically affected the contemporary immigrant experience?

14. For the Reyes family members who immigrate to the United States, which elements of Mexico are preserved in America and which are lost in the process of assimilation? Is it necessary for an immigrant to lose something of his or her original culture in order to assimilate into a new culture and, once assimilated, are the old ways lost for good? Does being “American” mean something different for the first generation of immigrants such as Inocencio than for the American-born Zoila or their daughter, the American-born Celaya? How does Celaya reconcile her Mexican legacy with her American future, and does this reconciliation give meaning to the term “Mexican-American”? How do shifting external border relations between Mexico and the United States reflect or affect the characters’ internal conflicts between their Mexican and American identities?

15. Aunty Light-Skin proclaims: “Because that’s how los gringos are, they don’t have any morals. They all have dinner with each other’s exes like it was nothing. ‘That’s because we’re civilized,’ a turista once explained to me. What a barbarity! Civilized? You call that civilized? Like dogs. Worse than dogs. If I caught my ex with his ‘other’ I’d stab them both with a kitchen fork. I would!” [p. 273]. What system of morality do the Reyes abide by? Does this code of morality reflect a more Mexican, more American, or a Mexican-American way of thinking? What cultural differences between Mexicans and Americans does Aunty Light-Skin’s proclamation illustrate?

16. “There is nothing Mexican men revere more than their mamas; they are the most devoted of sons perhaps because their mamas are the most devoted of mamas...when it comes to their boys” [p. 128]. What explains the strength of the relationship between Inocencio and the Awful Grandmother? Is the relationship between Zoila and Toto equally strong? Why or why not? How can mothers and daughters, such as Aunty Light-Skin and the Awful Grandmother, or Celaya and Zoila, successfully relate to each other in the face of such strong mother-son relationships? Is the favoritism these mothers show for their sons unique to Mexican culture? How does the bond between a son and his mother compare to the relationship between Celaya and Inocencio?

17. How does the fact of Candelaria’s parentage affect each of the family members differently—Zoila, the grandmother, Celaya? Does the information that Candelaria’s father is Inocencio change relationships between or among any of the Reyes family members?

18. Celaya says, “Life was cruel. And hilarious all at once” [p. 30]. And when things seem to have reached a low point in her life, she proclaims, “Celaya. I’m still myself. Still Celaya. Still alive. Sentenced to my life for however long God feels like laughing” [p. 357]. What attitude does Celaya have toward her own life? What keeps her going?

19. Inocencio tells Celaya: “Always remember, Lala, the family comes first—la familia” [p. 360]. Does her needy call home to Papa after her episode with Ernesto in Mexico City prove her father right [p. 390]? How does Celaya reconcile her father’s statement about family with her own vision of her future as an independent woman?

20. The first time the word “caramelo” appears in the book is when it is used to describe Candelaria’s skin tone [p. 34]. The second time is to name the color of the Awful Grandmother’s uncompleted rebozo [p. 58]. How are the two events connected? Why might Cisneros have chosen Caramelo for the title? What does the caramelo rebozo mean to Celaya the storyteller? To Celaya the Reyes family member? [See pp. 426–430.]

21. Cisneros employs elaborate and vivid food metaphors, such as “Regina was like the papaya slices she sold with lemon and a dash of chile; you could not help but want to take a little taste” [p. 117] and “Have you ever been that sad? Like a donut dunked in coffee” [p. 274]. Is taste the strongest sense her metaphors invoke? How does she also invoke the senses of smell, sight, and sound? What does Cisneros achieve stylistically or thematically by invoking these senses?

22. In Chapter 66 (“Nobody but Us Chickens”) the Grandmother gets sick—then, before Celaya reports to the reader her grandmother’s fate, she relates in Chapter 67 (“The Vogue”) how she and Viva got caught shoplifting. Why might Cisneros have juxtaposed these two chapters? Celaya also sets up family mysteries and delays solving them until much later in the novel. For example, the mystery of why Celaya is missing from the photograph on the beach is answered later. Are there other examples of such mysteries, and how does Cisneros use these mysteries to structure the plot and move it along?

23. Does Celaya betray her father by telling the story? Is Inocencio right that the family portrayed in Caramelo appears “shameless,” as he cautions Celaya [p. 430]? If not, how might one describe the family portrayed in Caramelo?

24. How does Caramelo push the stylistic boundaries of a traditional novel? Does the author’s use of footnotes; different voices; repetition; Spanish language, songs, and poetry; as well as other stylistic devices alter the definitions of form and structure? How do such stylistic devices reinforce the themes of the novel?

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Reading Group Guide

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“Joyful, fizzy.... This is one of those novels that blithely leap across the border between literary and popular fiction.” —The New York Times Book Review

Sandra Cisneros, the award-winning author of the highly acclaimed The House on Mango Street and several other esteemed works, has produced a stunning new novel, Caramelo. This long-anticipated novel is an all-embracing epic of family history, Mexican history, the immigrant experience, and a young Mexican-American woman's road to adulthood. We hope the following introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography enhance your group's reading of this captivating and masterful literary work.

1. From the novel's opening epigraph—“Tell me a story, even it it's a lie”—to its end, the relationship between truth, lies, history, and storytelling is an important theme. Posits Celaya, “Did I dream it or did someone tell me the story? I can't remember where the truth ends and the talk begins” [p. 20]. And while she is assuring us, “I wish I could tell you about this episode in my family's history, but nobody talks about it, and I refuse to invent what I don't know” [p. 134], she also acknowledges, “The same story becomes a different story depending on who is telling it” [p. 156]. For example, clearly the Awful Grandmother is sugarcoating the truth about her marriage to Narciso [p. 171]. What other aspects of the novel are evidently “untruthful”? Is the reader to believe that Caramelo is just a “different kind of lie” [p. 246]?

2. Celaya says,“I'm not ashamed of my past. It's the story of my life I'm sorry about” [p. 399]. What's the difference?

3. The narrative transitions from one storyteller's point of view, or voice, to another's in different parts of the story. For example, in Chapter 22, Celaya as the storyteller engages in a dialogue with the Awful Grandmother about the way the grandmother's story is being told [pp. 91–123]. Then, in Chapter 29, Narciso begins to tell his own story of when he lived in Chicago [p. 137]. And later, in Chapters 37–45, the dialogue between Celaya and the Awful Grandmother returns. Celaya seems to find her own voice and point of view in Chapter 59. What does the author achieve by shifting the viewpoint from character to character? How does the tone change to reflect the voices of a poor Mexican orphan, a young officer in the Mexican army, an American teenage girl, and others? How does this narrative device affect the reader's ability to sympathize or empathize with the characters?

4. Often elements of one person's life are echoed later in the story, in either the same character's life or in another character's. For example, Cisneros uses the same sentence—“And it was good and joyous and blessed”—to describe Grandmother's first sexual encounter with Narciso [p. 154] and later her death [p. 348]. And the argument between Mother and Celaya [p. 359] echoes the earlier argument between Aunty Light-Skin and the Awful Grandmother [p. 262]. Where are there other examples of this repetition within the novel? What themes does this structural repetition help convey?

5. The family history that forms the central story line of Caramelo is structured in part chronologically and in part by the relationships formed by different family members. As our narrator informs us: “Because a life contains a multitude of stories and not a single strand explains precisely the who of who one is, we have to examine the complicated loops that allowed Regina to become la Señora Reyes” [p. 115]. Does this nonlinear plot structure support the assertion that family and history are without beginning, middle, or end, but are, rather, a “pattern” [p. 399]?

6. How does the historical chronology at the end of the novel edify the Reyes family events that take place within the body of the narrative—and vice versa? In other words, since the reader probably read the story before the chronology, how do the fictional family events illuminate the factual chronology of United States and Mexican history? Is Caramelo like or different from other historical fictions, such as Alex Haley's Roots, with which the reader might be familiar?

7. The theme expressed in the following statement is reemphasized throughout the novel: “We are all born with our destiny. But sometimes we have to help our destiny a little” [p. 106]. For example, Viva tells Celaya: “I believe in destiny as much as you do, but sometimes you've gotta help your destiny along” [p. 345]. What exactly is the nature or power of the “destiny” that the characters seem to revere? Who or what is really in control of the lives and histories portrayed? How is destiny different for Celaya, her grandmother, her parents, and her friend Viva? Celaya says of Ernesto: “He was my destiny, but not my destination” [p. 399]. What is the difference?

8. How does the oft-repeated phrase “just enough, but not too much” [e.g., p. 29] describe the kind of person the Awful Grandmother is? What aspects, if any, of the Awful Grandmother's life story parallel Celaya's life story? Are the Awful Grandmother and Celaya alike in character, and if so, in what ways? How does Celaya, who upon her grandmother's death “can't think of anything to say for my grandmother who is simply my father's mother and nothing to me” [p. 350], ultimately come to feel that she's “turned into her. And [can] see inside her heart” [p. 424]? What does the Awful Grandmother teach Celaya about herself?

9. Celaya writes, “On Sunday mornings other families go to church. We go to Maxwell Street” [p. 294]. Does she relate this cynically or humorously, or both? What religious beliefs does Celaya hold? How is her faith or religion different from Zoila's, who is portrayed as having no faith at all [Chapter 62], or from the faith or religion of the Awful Grandmother [see, for example, p. 191]?

10. What is the role played in the novel by the various Mexican or Mexican-American figures of popular culture who have encounters with members of the Reyes family? How does Cisneros use these characters to convey both the individuality as well as the universality of the Mexican-American immigrant experience?

11. The characters in Caramelo make frequent observations about Mexicans. For example, Zoila asserts that “all people from Mexico City are liars” [p. 353], and Celaya comments “We're so Mexican. So much left unsaid” [p. 428]. With what tone do the characters deliver these types of generalizations, and how are they to be interpreted? Why might these characters portray their native countrymen in this way? Do people of other cultures make similarly deprecating comments, and what purpose might making such comments serve for such people?

12. How does the Reyes family view the United States as compared to Mexico? How are the two countries portrayed in Caramelo on both political and social levels? Celaya observes that “[e]veryone in Chicago lived with an idea of being superior to someone else, and they did not, if they could help it, live on the same block without of lot of readjustments, of exceptions made for the people they know by name instead of as ‘those so-and so's'” [p. 289–290]. Is this different or similar to how people from different classes or ethnicities (such as the Indians) in Mexico City treat or view each other?

13. The Reyes family members move fluidly throughout the book between Mexico and the United States. Does the ease of such movement diminish for each generation? How does the immigration of Inocencio and his siblings and first cousins reflect immigration between the countries in the middle part of the twentieth century, and how has immigration to the United States from Mexico changed today? How do the changes in immigration reflect the changes in the relationship between the countries? How does Caramelo reflect the immigrant experience generally for the middle part of the twentieth century, and how have changes within the United States both socially and politically affected the contemporary immigrant experience?

14. For the Reyes family members who immigrate to the United States, which elements of Mexico are preserved in America and which are lost in the process of assimilation? Is it necessary for an immigrant to lose something of his or her original culture in order to assimilate into a new culture and, once assimilated, are the old ways lost for good? Does being “American” mean something different for the first generation of immigrants such as Inocencio than for the American-born Zoila or their daughter, the American-born Celaya? How does Celaya reconcile her Mexican legacy with her American future, and does this reconciliation give meaning to the term “Mexican-American”? How do shifting external border relations between Mexico and the United States reflect or affect the characters' internal conflicts between their Mexican and American identities?

15. Aunty Light-Skin proclaims: “Because that's how los gringos are, they don't have any morals. They all have dinner with each other's exes like it was nothing. ‘That's because we're civilized,' a turista once explained to me. What a barbarity! Civilized? You call that civilized? Like dogs. Worse than dogs. If I caught my ex with his ‘other' I'd stab them both with a kitchen fork. I would!” [p. 273]. What system of morality do the Reyes abide by? Does this code of morality reflect a more Mexican, more American, or a Mexican-American way of thinking? What cultural differences between Mexicans and Americans does Aunty Light-Skin's proclamation illustrate?

16. “There is nothing Mexican men revere more than their mamas; they are the most devoted of sons perhaps because their mamas are the most devoted of mamas...when it comes to their boys” [p. 128]. What explains the strength of the relationship between Inocencio and the Awful Grandmother? Is the relationship between Zoila and Toto equally strong? Why or why not? How can mothers and daughters, such as Aunty Light-Skin and the Awful Grandmother, or Celaya and Zoila, successfully relate to each other in the face of such strong mother-son relationships? Is the favoritism these mothers show for their sons unique to Mexican culture? How does the bond between a son and his mother compare to the relationship between Celaya and Inocencio?

17. How does the fact of Candelaria's parentage affect each of the family members differently—Zoila, the grandmother, Celaya? Does the information that Candelaria's father is Inocencio change relationships between or among any of the Reyes family members?

18. Celaya says, “Life was cruel. And hilarious all at once” [p. 30]. And when things seem to have reached a low point in her life, she proclaims, “Celaya. I'm still myself. Still Celaya. Still alive. Sentenced to my life for however long God feels like laughing” [p. 357]. What attitude does Celaya have toward her own life? What keeps her going?

19. Inocencio tells Celaya: “Always remember, Lala, the family comes first—la familia” [p. 360]. Does her needy call home to Papa after her episode with Ernesto in Mexico City prove her father right [p. 390]? How does Celaya reconcile her father's statement about family with her own vision of her future as an independent woman?

20. The first time the word “caramelo” appears in the book is when it is used to describe Candelaria's skin tone [p. 34]. The second time is to name the color of the Awful Grandmother's uncompleted rebozo [p. 58]. How are the two events connected? Why might Cisneros have chosen Caramelo for the title? What does the caramelo rebozo mean to Celaya the storyteller? To Celaya the Reyes family member? [See pp. 426–430.]

21. Cisneros employs elaborate and vivid food metaphors, such as “Regina was like the papaya slices she sold with lemon and a dash of chile; you could not help but want to take a little taste” [p. 117] and “Have you ever been that sad? Like a donut dunked in coffee” [p. 274]. Is taste the strongest sense her metaphors invoke? How does she also invoke the senses of smell, sight, and sound? What does Cisneros achieve stylistically or thematically by invoking these senses?

22. In Chapter 66 (“Nobody but Us Chickens”) the Grandmother gets sick—then, before Celaya reports to the reader her grandmother's fate, she relates in Chapter 67 (“The Vogue”) how she and Viva got caught shoplifting. Why might Cisneros have juxtaposed these two chapters? Celaya also sets up family mysteries and delays solving them until much later in the novel. For example, the mystery of why Celaya is missing from the photograph on the beach is answered later. Are there other examples of such mysteries, and how does Cisneros use these mysteries to structure the plot and move it along?

23. Does Celaya betray her father by telling the story? Is Inocencio right that the family portrayed in Caramelo appears “shameless,” as he cautions Celaya [p. 430]? If not, how might one describe the family portrayed in Caramelo?

24. How does Caramelo push the stylistic boundaries of a traditional novel? Does the author's use of footnotes; different voices; repetition; Spanish language, songs, and poetry; as well as other stylistic devices alter the definitions of form and structure? How do such stylistic devices reinforce the themes of the novel?

Read More Show Less

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2013

    Charming, Recommended

    This book helps the reader gain insight into immigrant life on a very personal basis. It is filled charming descriptions and interesting characters.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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