Caramelo, or, puro cuento By Sandra Cisneros
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2002
Caramelo was nominated for the Orange Prize in 2003.
Borrowed from the library.
Caramelo is a multi-generational novel that weaves playfully through time. It is the story of Celaya Reyes, known as Lala, the youngest in a family of seven children, all of them boys except for her. Cisneros is a master at bringing this family and all their relatives to life. We first meet them as they travel to Mexico City on their annual trip to visit Grandfather and Grandmother Reyes.
There are many themes running through this novel, women in Mexican society, family vs. independence, religious and social expectations, loyalty, lies and love being just a few of them. Cisneros handles all of this deftly as she plays fast and loose with the structure, adding song lyrics, film references and footnotes along the way. The novel is fast paced and at times I felt it was veering off track, trying to cram too much in too many layers, but it works. Somehow all of the history characters and memories hold together to form a wonderful, solid novel.
There are many beautiful scenes and images within all these memories. Food, its preparation, serving and eating, is one constant that runs through the novel, as is the difficult relationship between Mexico and the United States. The title, Caramelo, references many things. The sweetness of candy, the many colors of the Mexican people, and something that connect Lala with her history. Her Grandmother came from a family of weavers and dyers, famous for their rebozos, and a special wrap travels through time in this novel.
…The Grandmother snaps open the carmelo rebozo. It gives a soft flap like wings as it falls open. The candy-colored cloth unfurling like a flag – no, like a hypnotist’s spiral…
The Grandmother unfolds it to its full width across the bed. How nice it looks spread out, like a long mane of hair. She plays at braiding and unbraiding the unfinished strands, pulling them straight with her fingers then smoothing them smooth. It calms her, especially when she’s nervous, the way some people braid and unbraid their own hair without realizing they’re doing it. With an old toothbrush she brushes the fringe. The Grandmother hums bits of songs she doesn’t know she’s humming while she works, carefully unworking the kinks and knots, finally taking a comb and nail scissors to snip off the ragged ends, holding the swag of cloth in her arms and sniffing its scent. Good thing she thought to burn dried rosemary to keep it smelling sweet all these years. From page 254.
Lala ends up with this beautiful shawl and a deeper understanding of her family. I read The House on Mango Street many years ago and now want to read it again. My thanks to Claire at kiss a cloud for suggesting I read this book.