From the Publisher
"All the energy of a riotous family fiesta. . . . Cisneros is undeniably at her peak.” –The Washington Post
"A glorious book, Caramelo is crowded with the souvenirs and memories of the dramas of everyday life…like an oversized family album, intimate as well as universal."—The Philadelphia Inquirer
"A joyful, fizzy American novel. . . Soulful, sophisticated and skeptical, full of great one-liners, it is one of those novels that blithely leap across the border between literary and popular fiction.” –New York Times Book Review
"Like Eduardo Galeano, John Dos Passos and John Steinbeck, Cisneros writes along the borders where the novel and social history intersect. In this lovingly told and poetic novel, she uses the storytelling art to give the voiceless ones a voice, and to find the border to the past, imbuing the struggles of her family and her countries with the richness of myth.” –Los Angeles Times
“A wonderful book . . . evoking life’s absurdity and possibility, tragedy and transcendence. . . . Combines the thematic richness of the most ambitious literature with the delight in character and plot of the most engrossing page-turner.” –Chicago Sun-Times
“Cisneros is a writer for all people. This is a novel of families, home life and finding yourself in the world’s greater landscape.” –USA Today
“A sprawling, exuberant hopscotch through a century of family history. . . . Cisneros seduces us with her knitted tales, great and small, and her message is all the more powerful for its shimmering clarity.” –Time Out New York
“Cisneros has a great eye for detail, a good ear for dialogue and a marvelous sense of humor. . . Caramelo is a tour de force–rich in its use of language, breathtaking in scope.” –St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Lovingly, passionately woven from dust and glory. . . A sweeping family history that somehow manages to interlace not just the Reyeses those conjurers, enticers and troublemakers but also all the rest of us, the good and bad together, the bitter and, of course, the sweet.” –Miami Herald
“Sprawling, spirited. . . Vibrant and big-hearted.” –Elle
“Cisneros’s exuberant prose tickles the senses. . . A warm and generous story to wrap yourself up in.” –St. Petersburg Times
“A sweet gift from the universe, a reminder of the ancient, deep, noble, and sad sources of the human heart. . . sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes transcendent.” –San Antonio Express
“Cisneros is a virtuoso. . . [Caramelo] is rich in character and action, people and passions.” –Houston Chronicle
“Remarkable. . . . Caramelo is a book to read slowly and savor and if you can find a listener, to read out loud.” –Santa Fe New Mexican
“Cisneros is such an imaginative storyteller. . . Caramelo engages in a kind of playfulness that is utterly bewitching.” –Entertainment Weekly
“Spellbinding. . . A richly satisfying novel.” –People
“There should be a brand-new language to describe the ways in which [Cisneros] has imbued the ancient art of story-telling with her trademark organization, characterization, evocation of time and place, portrayal of a particular culture, and visionary wisdom. . .You must read this book for yourself, two or three times.” –The Women’s Review of Books
“Cisneros is a wonderful cultural translator, writing English dialogue so saturated with Mexican-Spanish idioms and constructions that you feel like you’ve been magically empowered to eavesdrop in another language.” –The Oregonian
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
Read an Excerpt
Acuérdate de Acapulco,
de aquellas noches,
María bonita, María del alma;
acuérdate que en la playa,
con tus manitas las estrellitas
-"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 abathing 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?
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
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.
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.
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
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 . . .