Saturday, July 21, 2007

Caramelo: A Review by Lizzie Stark

This is the third of a many-part series written by the staff and editors of Fringe Magazine, who will be reviewing books from the Pool as part of the 25 Books Project.

I began reading Caramelo in early August of 2005, after my first year in Emerson's MFA program. Why do I remember the date with such accuracy? Because the book was so good that I waited to finish it before heading to the eye doctor about the blurry lines in my right eye, which turned out to be a detached retina.

Sandra Cisneros wrote her masterpiece over a period of ten years, and the time she took to craft the novel shows. Caramelo chronicles the lives of a boisterous family's annual journey to visit relatives (including "the awful grandmother") in Mexico City. Most of the book is told through the eyes of Lala, the youngest of seven, who is particularly curious about her father's relationship with his mother. Lala imagines herself into the awful grandmother's early life -- recounting her upbringing and marriage during the Mexican revolution.

Cisneros also embroiders the story with footnotes, musings about the Spanish language (why hot women are often called "mamis", for example -- how incestuous!), and historical information on Mexico, weaving a story as complex as the lace of the carmel-colored rebozo that the awful grandmother wears. Firmly grounded in the realist tradition, Caramelo somehow manages to get many generations solidly on the page -- a feat often likened to Allende's in The House of Spirits or Marquez's in One Hundred Years of Solitude -- and I think Cisneros deserves the excellence of this company. Her characters leap off the page and stay with you, even through a detached retina. A heartily-recommended read for anyone who wants something they won't be able to put down.

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