Caramelo, Sandra Cisneros, Alfred A Knopf, 2002, 439 pp
Some years ago I bought this book for the title. I had a new kitten, a calico with a caramel colored strip right down the side of her face. Since I love caramel in any form (those chewy candy squares, Ben and Jerry's Caramel Cone ice cream, caramel in coffee drinks, etc) I named her Caramelo.
I am sorry to report that the book is not nearly as entertaining as my cat. It begins with the Reyes family making one of their yearly summer trips from Chicago to Mexico City to visit the "awful grandmother." It take them forever to leave and another few forevers to get there.
This Mexican American family has a history. All families do, in fact I am writing the story of mine. It is a trick to keep it interesting to anyone else but myself. Also like me, Cisneros views the family through herself and the coming of age of Lala, the only daughter and the baby of the family, who has six older brothers.
It took me forever, it seemed, to read. I don't know Spanish and she uses tons of Spanish words which I looked up because they were not always explained by the context. I enjoyed seeing late 20th century life through the eyes of a woman of Mexican heritage. I don't know much about that culture, though I am surrounded by it in Los Angeles, and now have gained more affinity for Mexican Americans. I liked that too.
My problems with Caramelo were a writing style I could not get used to and the feeling that Cisneros failed to keep her readers in mind. Still, I'm not sorry I read it because I don't think I have read any novels by a female of Mexican descent or a female of Mexican nationality, except for The Wedding by Mary Helen Ponce, whom I know personally.
Now that I think of it, Cisneros shows in her novel the cultural reasons for the lack of successful Mexican female authors. It was worth getting through Caramelo just to learn about that. Perhaps I was not her intended ideal reader and she wrote this book for other frustrated Mexican women.
(Caramelo is available in various formats in both English and Spanish by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)
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