Jessica's Reviews > Caramelo

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
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it was ok

I borrowed Caramelo from the library in order to read it for a book club. I'd read The House on Mango Street years ago for a class, but what little I remember is that I wasn't especially impressed - but then I'm not even entirely sure I didn't just skim the book; it was one of those classes where you could get away with that kind of thing.

Caramelo is the chronicle of several generations of the Reyes family, Mexicans recently transplanted to Chicago. The story is narrated by Celaya (Lala), the youngest daughter of the oldest son, and it illustrates the idea that the threads of life are so closely interwoven that every little side story of every member of one's family impacts one's own life. Thus, the novel is told in mini-chapter vignettes, some as short as a single page, which jump backward and forward in time.

I wanted to like Caramelo. Sandra Cisneros is a good storyteller, it's just that her story doesn't go anywhere. The book is over 400 pages long but doesn't really start to feel like a coherent story till the last hundred pages or so. There are moments where the book is really ON - when Inocencio is in prison with the ventriloquist, when the Grandmother reappears while her son is dying in the hospital - but they're few and far between. Most of the time it just seemed like little anecdotes that more often than not didn't propel the story toward anything in particular.

Part of the problem is that the book is separated into three sections with very distinct tones. In the first, Lala is a child, remembering her family's trips to Mexico in her youth. In the middle, the focus shifts to Lala's grandmother, who interrupts the narrative repeatedly to point out all the ways Lala is being untrue to the story. I found the addition of the grandmother's voice to be distracting and unnecessary; I know Cisneros wants to make it clear that the art of storytelling involves lies and fabrications, but I didn't need to be bludgeoned with it for a third of the book.

The final third focuses on Lala's teenage years, and this is the part of the book I found most engaging. Lala has a distinct voice and she focuses on a coherent stream of events, finally making me able to understand and sympathize not only with her character, but with other characters in the story as well. I feel like I didn't begin to get to know the characters until this last stretch, and I kept being surprised with revelations at the last minute ("oh, Lala and her mother don't get along with each other?") that really weren't made clear in the first three hundred pages of the book.

It was useful for me to read this book at this particular point in my life, because I've just begun taking Spanish classes, and Cisneros uses a lot of Spanish words and phrases in her text. I also enjoyed that part of the book was set in Chicago - I could recognize street names and locales, which made the book feel a little more personal. However, those are little details that make the book more interesting for me - on the whole, the book is too long and meandering (with no ultimate sense of satisfaction or purpose) that I wouldn't recommend it very strongly.
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Reading Progress

March 5, 2004 – Started Reading
March 12, 2004 – Finished Reading
May 1, 2011 – Shelved

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message 1: by Majesty (new) - added it

Majesty Zander I feel like the changing story POVs from Celaya to Soledad to Narciso then to Inocencio and back to Celaya add to the story. They give you things that you wouldn't be able to see in a regular set novel. Yes, it's a bit confusing at first, but by the end (didn't like the end too much) you learn to love it.

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