Caramelo

Caramelo

by Sandra Cisneros

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Overview

Lala Reyes' grandmother is descended from a family of renowned rebozo—, or shawl-makers. The striped (caramelo) is the most beautiful of all, and the one that makes its way, like the family history it has come to represent, into Lala's possession. The novel opens with the Reyes' annual car trip—a caravan overflowing with children, laughter, and quarrels—from Chicago to "the other side": Mexico City. It is there, each year, that Lala hears her family's stories, separating the truth from the "healthy lies" that have ricocheted from one generation to the next. We travel from the Mexico City that was the "Paris of the New World" to the music-filled streets of Chicago at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties—and finally, to Lala's own difficult adolescence in the not-quite-promised land of San Antonio, Texas.

Caramelo is a vital, wise, romantic tale of homelands, sometimes real, sometimes imagined. Vivid, funny, intimate, historical, it is a brilliant work destined to become a classic: a major new novel from one of our country's most beloved storytellers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060515911
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/28/2002
Edition description: Unabridged, 10 Cassettes
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 4.08(w) x 6.30(h) x 2.65(d)

About the Author

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954. Internationally acclaimed for her poetry and fiction, she has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lannan Literary Award and the American Book Award, and of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacArthur Foundation. Cisneros is the author of The House on Mango Street, Woman Hollering Creek, Loose Woman, and My Wicked Ways. She lives in the Southwest.

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954. Internationally acclaimed for her poetry and fiction, she has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lannan Literary Award and the American Book Award, and of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacArthur Foundation. Cisneros is the author of The House on Mango Street, Woman Hollering Creek, Loose Woman, and My Wicked Ways. She lives in the Southwest.

Hometown:

San Antonio, Texas

Date of Birth:

December 20, 1954

Place of Birth:

Chicago, Illinois

Education:

B.A., Loyola University, 1976; M.F.A., University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1978

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Acuérdate de Acapulco,

de aquellas noches,

María bonita, María del alma;

acuérdate que en la playa,

con tus manitas las estrellitas

las enjuagabas.

-"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 a bathing 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?

1.

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

yelling, -Faster!

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.

2.

Chillante

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.

3.

Qué Elegante

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

waving.

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 . . .

Reading Group Guide

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“Joyful, fizzy.... This is one of those novels that blithely leap across the border between literary and popular fiction.” —The New York Times Book Review

Sandra Cisneros, the award-winning author of the highly acclaimed The House on Mango Street and several other esteemed works, has produced a stunning new novel, Caramelo. This long-anticipated novel is an all-embracing epic of family history, Mexican history, the immigrant experience, and a young Mexican-American woman’s road to adulthood. We hope the following introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography enhance your group’s reading of this captivating and masterful literary work.

1. From the novel’s opening epigraph—“Tell me a story, even it it’s a lie”—to its end, the relationship between truth, lies, history, and storytelling is an important theme. Posits Celaya, “Did I dream it or did someone tell me the story? I can’t remember where the truth ends and the talk begins” [p. 20]. And while she is assuring us, “I wish I could tell you about this episode in my family’s history, but nobody talks about it, and I refuse to invent what I don’t know” [p. 134], she also acknowledges, “The same story becomes a different story depending on who is telling it” [p. 156]. For example, clearly the Awful Grandmother is sugarcoating the truth about her marriage to Narciso [p. 171]. What other aspects of the novel are evidently “untruthful”? Is the reader to believe that Caramelo is just a “different kind of lie” [p. 246]?

2. Celaya says, “I’m not ashamed of my past. It’s the story of my life I’m sorry about” [p. 399]. What’s the difference?

3. The narrative transitions from one storyteller’s point of view, or voice, to another’s in different parts of the story. For example, in Chapter 22, Celaya as the storyteller engages in a dialogue with the Awful Grandmother about the way the grandmother’s story is being told [pp. 91–123]. Then, in Chapter 29, Narciso begins to tell his own story of when he lived in Chicago [p. 137]. And later, in Chapters 37–45, the dialogue between Celaya and the Awful Grandmother returns. Celaya seems to find her own voice and point of view in Chapter 59. What does the author achieve by shifting the viewpoint from character to character? How does the tone change to reflect the voices of a poor Mexican orphan, a young officer in the Mexican army, an American teenage girl, and others? How does this narrative device affect the reader’s ability to sympathize or empathize with the characters?

4. Often elements of one person’s life are echoed later in the story, in either the same character’s life or in another character’s. For example, Cisneros uses the same sentence—“And it was good and joyous and blessed”—to describe Grandmother’s first sexual encounter with Narciso [p. 154] and later her death [p. 348]. And the argument between Mother and Celaya [p. 359] echoes the earlier argument between Aunty Light-Skin and the Awful Grandmother [p. 262]. Where are there other examples of this repetition within the novel? What themes does this structural repetition help convey?

5. The family history that forms the central story line of Caramelo is structured in part chronologically and in part by the relationships formed by different family members. As our narrator informs us: “Because a life contains a multitude of stories and not a single strand explains precisely the who of who one is, we have to examine the complicated loops that allowed Regina to become la Señora Reyes” [p. 115]. Does this nonlinear plot structure support the assertion that family and history are without beginning, middle, or end, but are, rather, a “pattern” [p. 399]?

6. How does the historical chronology at the end of the novel edify the Reyes family events that take place within the body of the narrative—and vice versa? In other words, since the reader probably read the story before the chronology, how do the fictional family events illuminate the factual chronology of United States and Mexican history? Is Caramelo like or different from other historical fictions, such as Alex Haley’s Roots, with which the reader might be familiar?

7. The theme expressed in the following statement is reemphasized throughout the novel: “We are all born with our destiny. But sometimes we have to help our destiny a little” [p. 106]. For example, Viva tells Celaya: “I believe in destiny as much as you do, but sometimes you’ve gotta help your destiny along” [p. 345]. What exactly is the nature or power of the “destiny” that the characters seem to revere? Who or what is really in control of the lives and histories portrayed? How is destiny different for Celaya, her grandmother, her parents, and her friend Viva? Celaya says of Ernesto: “He was my destiny, but not my destination” [p. 399]. What is the difference?

8. How does the oft-repeated phrase “just enough, but not too much” [e.g., p. 29] describe the kind of person the Awful Grandmother is? What aspects, if any, of the Awful Grandmother’s life story parallel Celaya’s life story? Are the Awful Grandmother and Celaya alike in character, and if so, in what ways? How does Celaya, who upon her grandmother’s death “can’t think of anything to say for my grandmother who is simply my father’s mother and nothing to me” [p. 350], ultimately come to feel that she’s “turned into her. And [can] see inside her heart” [p. 424]? What does the Awful Grandmother teach Celaya about herself?

9. Celaya writes, “On Sunday mornings other families go to church. We go to Maxwell Street” [p. 294]. Does she relate this cynically or humorously, or both? What religious beliefs does Celaya hold? How is her faith or religion different from Zoila’s, who is portrayed as having no faith at all [Chapter 62], or from the faith or religion of the Awful Grandmother [see, for example, p. 191]?

10. What is the role played in the novel by the various Mexican or Mexican-American figures of popular culture who have encounters with members of the Reyes family? How does Cisneros use these characters to convey both the individuality as well as the universality of the Mexican-American immigrant experience?

11. The characters in Caramelo make frequent observations about Mexicans. For example, Zoila asserts that “all people from Mexico City are liars” [p. 353], and Celaya comments “We’re so Mexican. So much left unsaid” [p. 428]. With what tone do the characters deliver these types of generalizations, and how are they to be interpreted? Why might these characters portray their native countrymen in this way? Do people of other cultures make similarly deprecating comments, and what purpose might making such comments serve for such people?

12. How does the Reyes family view the United States as compared to Mexico? How are the two countries portrayed in Caramelo on both political and social levels? Celaya observes that “[e]veryone in Chicago lived with an idea of being superior to someone else, and they did not, if they could help it, live on the same block without of lot of readjustments, of exceptions made for the people they know by name instead of as ‘those so-and so’s’” [p. 289–290]. Is this different or similar to how people from different classes or ethnicities (such as the Indians) in Mexico City treat or view each other?

13. The Reyes family members move fluidly throughout the book between Mexico and the United States. Does the ease of such movement diminish for each generation? How does the immigration of Inocencio and his siblings and first cousins reflect immigration between the countries in the middle part of the twentieth century, and how has immigration to the United States from Mexico changed today? How do the changes in immigration reflect the changes in the relationship between the countries? How does Caramelo reflect the immigrant experience generally for the middle part of the twentieth century, and how have changes within the United States both socially and politically affected the contemporary immigrant experience?

14. For the Reyes family members who immigrate to the United States, which elements of Mexico are preserved in America and which are lost in the process of assimilation? Is it necessary for an immigrant to lose something of his or her original culture in order to assimilate into a new culture and, once assimilated, are the old ways lost for good? Does being “American” mean something different for the first generation of immigrants such as Inocencio than for the American-born Zoila or their daughter, the American-born Celaya? How does Celaya reconcile her Mexican legacy with her American future, and does this reconciliation give meaning to the term “Mexican-American”? How do shifting external border relations between Mexico and the United States reflect or affect the characters’ internal conflicts between their Mexican and American identities?

15. Aunty Light-Skin proclaims: “Because that’s how los gringos are, they don’t have any morals. They all have dinner with each other’s exes like it was nothing. ‘That’s because we’re civilized,’ a turista once explained to me. What a barbarity! Civilized? You call that civilized? Like dogs. Worse than dogs. If I caught my ex with his ‘other’ I’d stab them both with a kitchen fork. I would!” [p. 273]. What system of morality do the Reyes abide by? Does this code of morality reflect a more Mexican, more American, or a Mexican-American way of thinking? What cultural differences between Mexicans and Americans does Aunty Light-Skin’s proclamation illustrate?

16. “There is nothing Mexican men revere more than their mamas; they are the most devoted of sons perhaps because their mamas are the most devoted of mamas...when it comes to their boys” [p. 128]. What explains the strength of the relationship between Inocencio and the Awful Grandmother? Is the relationship between Zoila and Toto equally strong? Why or why not? How can mothers and daughters, such as Aunty Light-Skin and the Awful Grandmother, or Celaya and Zoila, successfully relate to each other in the face of such strong mother-son relationships? Is the favoritism these mothers show for their sons unique to Mexican culture? How does the bond between a son and his mother compare to the relationship between Celaya and Inocencio?

17. How does the fact of Candelaria’s parentage affect each of the family members differently—Zoila, the grandmother, Celaya? Does the information that Candelaria’s father is Inocencio change relationships between or among any of the Reyes family members?

18. Celaya says, “Life was cruel. And hilarious all at once” [p. 30]. And when things seem to have reached a low point in her life, she proclaims, “Celaya. I’m still myself. Still Celaya. Still alive. Sentenced to my life for however long God feels like laughing” [p. 357]. What attitude does Celaya have toward her own life? What keeps her going?

19. Inocencio tells Celaya: “Always remember, Lala, the family comes first—la familia” [p. 360]. Does her needy call home to Papa after her episode with Ernesto in Mexico City prove her father right [p. 390]? How does Celaya reconcile her father’s statement about family with her own vision of her future as an independent woman?

20. The first time the word “caramelo” appears in the book is when it is used to describe Candelaria’s skin tone [p. 34]. The second time is to name the color of the Awful Grandmother’s uncompleted rebozo [p. 58]. How are the two events connected? Why might Cisneros have chosen Caramelo for the title? What does the caramelo rebozo mean to Celaya the storyteller? To Celaya the Reyes family member? [See pp. 426–430.]

21. Cisneros employs elaborate and vivid food metaphors, such as “Regina was like the papaya slices she sold with lemon and a dash of chile; you could not help but want to take a little taste” [p. 117] and “Have you ever been that sad? Like a donut dunked in coffee” [p. 274]. Is taste the strongest sense her metaphors invoke? How does she also invoke the senses of smell, sight, and sound? What does Cisneros achieve stylistically or thematically by invoking these senses?

22. In Chapter 66 (“Nobody but Us Chickens”) the Grandmother gets sick—then, before Celaya reports to the reader her grandmother’s fate, she relates in Chapter 67 (“The Vogue”) how she and Viva got caught shoplifting. Why might Cisneros have juxtaposed these two chapters? Celaya also sets up family mysteries and delays solving them until much later in the novel. For example, the mystery of why Celaya is missing from the photograph on the beach is answered later. Are there other examples of such mysteries, and how does Cisneros use these mysteries to structure the plot and move it along?

23. Does Celaya betray her father by telling the story? Is Inocencio right that the family portrayed in Caramelo appears “shameless,” as he cautions Celaya [p. 430]? If not, how might one describe the family portrayed in Caramelo?

24. How does Caramelo push the stylistic boundaries of a traditional novel? Does the author’s use of footnotes; different voices; repetition; Spanish language, songs, and poetry; as well as other stylistic devices alter the definitions of form and structure? How do such stylistic devices reinforce the themes of the novel?

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Caramelo 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Allison-womeninlit3rd More than 1 year ago
This book was very enjoyable for me. It was at times slow but all in all I found there was a lot I could relate to in Celaya's story. As a Hispanic-American living with her mother, father, seven brothers, and eventually "The Awful Grandmother" she has a lot to deal with. I believe Celaya wants to know herself and the strong female she can be and that this is what drives her to search out advice through the stories of her Awful Grandmother and other females in her life. I found myself feeling deeply for Celaya throughout the story. I was left satisfied at the end when, even though she was still unsure of who she was, she had heard and learned enough from her Grandmother, Mother, and Aunt's past experiences with love, relationships, and family hardships to be able to succeed in life and understand what she herself had experienced. Cisneros is wonderful at helping you to almost taste the scene as you are reading and her character's emotions and personalities are captured wonderfully.
JessicaSR on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Celaya, also nicknamed "Lala," narrated her family's history; she gives emphasis to her own experiances and the life of the "Awful Grandmother." The visits to Mexico and family every summer keeps the Hispanic tradition in Celaya and her brothers. Society and the ones this family trusted the most decide to abondon Celaya's family and make them suffer from poverty. Surprising twists and turns make the story even more irresistable to read, but I cannot say anymore before I start to spoil more than one scene. I'd only recommend this book if it comes prepared with time and patiance because of the short chapters and the way they leave you hanging. It leaves you wanting to know more, but I promise you it's all going to fit together like a puzzle in the end.
cbl_tn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
To write is to ask questions. It doesn't matter if the answers are true or puro cuento.Sandra Cisneros explores themes of identity, family, memory, perception, nationality, ethnicity, immigration, and gender issues through the eyes of Celaya Reyes (¿Lala¿), a young Mexican American girl growing up in the post-World War II era. Lala's father was born in Mexico. Lala and her brother were born in the U.S., but spend their summers with her father's parents in Mexico City. No matter where she is ¿ Mexico, Chicago, or San Antonio - Lala is conscious of her status as an outsider. She doesn't even have a place at home. In Chicago, she sleeps on a recliner in the living room, while in Mexico, she sleeps in her parents' room. When her father tells people he has seven ¿hijos¿, Lala hears him claiming seven ¿sons¿. She knows she is her father's favorite child, yet she still feels like daughters don't count in his worldview.There are layers of story within the novel. Even the names of characters and places tell a story. Self-absorbed Narciso and his lonely wife Soledad make their home on Destiny Street. Narciso and Soledad are distant cousins and share the name Reyes (¿King¿). Lala's father, a Reyes, marries a Reyna (¿Queen¿).In the middle portion of the book, Lala tells her grandmother's story. She interprets Mexican history through experiences in the lives of members of her family. In some ways, it reminds me of what Rushdie does with the history of India and Pakistan in Midnight's Children.Cisneros uses endnotes as a device in many of the chapters, and some of the notes are quite lengthy. I don't think the format would easily translate into an e-book, and that probably explains why it doesn't seem to be available in that format.Caramelo is a book to savor, and one I won't soon forget.
upsidedown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'd be hard pressed to find a writer with as relevant and evocative similes as Cisneros in this longer work. She's also the queen of lists-- detailed and ridiculous lists of products, foods, smells, decorations, and clothing. The overall story is rather episodic and doesn't generate too much drama, especially the second part's section about the era of the Awful Grandmother's youth. I don't care about what becomes of the characters. However, I just eat up the language. Oh, and the lady on the cover looks just like me without my glasses!
bethlea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found myself thinking - all families are pretty much the same - brothers tease sisters, long car rides are boring and tiresome, grandparents are mysterious.I enjoyed myself while I was reading Caramelo. Sandra Cisneros uses a lot of Spanish - she quickly translates it - but I suspect that this may be a reason many people didn't like this book.(I haven't met anyone else who liked it! - yet)
mhgatti on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This 440-page book reads like a extended short story. On top of that, it reads like a historical extended short story. Caramelo takes you through several generations of a Mexican family whose story shifts from Chicago to Mexico City to San Antonio and back to Mexico City and Chicago, with pit stops all over America and Mexico. Caramelo also uses annotations throughout the book to explain Mexican-American culture or offer mini-biographies of famous people who serendipitously end up in the family history.More than any novel I've read in 2004, this book did not appear to be in any rush to get where it was going. It didn't seem to include any major plot points or work up to a major climax. I don't mean for that to be as critical as it sounds. It was simply the (pretty much true) history of a family. I think it was the breeziness and poetry in Cisneros' writing that gave the book the short story feel. But it was not a slight book. When I finished it and looked back on the story I realized that there were many major plot points in it, it's just that Cisneros didn't hit me over the head with them.With Caramelo, you know that family history is actually family storytelling, and there's no problem telling a "healthy lie" (as the narrator's father puts it) if it helps the story. These myths somehow help centuries of stories weave together seamlessly. Ironically, the only time the novel feels disjointed is when the story centers on the narrator, as she goes through puberty. But that is a short diversion and a minor objection.So, how did I like the book? While I was reading it, I actually wasn't sure. It took me a relatively long time to get through the book. I think that was caused by the book's laid-back feel and its lack of the strong backbone of a gripping tale. I ended up reading a few pages at a time, with very little pushing me to want to read on and on. But after finishing the book I found that I did enjoy "cheating" and reading a short story, no matter how long it was, as a break from reading novels. The historic bits about Mexican-American history from the Mexican viewpoint were very interesting and the storytelling is on a personal scale and often very funny. But for this family's story to be considered a novel I think it would have to be more concrete. More propelled. Like many of the short stories I've read in anthologies like Best American Short Stories, this was a very interesting little story that I enjoyed while I was reading it, but after moving on becomes part of the collective "short stories" that I may not remember but makes me a fan of short stories.
lcrouch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, including the glimpse at a novel hispanic experience. I LOVE her writing which picks you up and carries you along until, before you know it, you're at the end, wanting more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
CaRiNa77 More than 1 year ago
This story is told by LaLa Reyes, a young girl who's childhood is spent traveling back and fourth fourth from her home in Chicago to her grandparents home in Mexico City. LaLa dreads the trip every year and calls her grandmother ,"the awful Grandmother." One of the main themes in the story is how Mexican women are portrayed. They have to meet the expectation on what society wants them to be When deep down inside these women are miserable. They are hidden from the reality and when it hits them they are helpless to what they should do. LaLa needs to tell the truth from the lies and stories told to find out the family background. The authors writing style is easy to understand and a lot of the things she wrote about i would find myself relating to the same things. LaLa comes off with a strong personality to her mother an grandmother for simply being herself. This is a really great book to read even if your not a reader it will keep you wanting to read more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have a really hard time reading Sandra Cisneros' books. They all start off so slow. I enjoy the storyline, but they are slow reads for me. I didn't like how much she mixed English and Spanish words and the form that she chose to do it. I speak both languages and I think she did a bad job with this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Caramelo was originally an assigned reading; however, it is a book I would have gladly read for personal enjoyment. Cisneros writes in a very down-to-earth, relatable way that makes even the slow parts of the novel seem interesting. There are three things I like most about this novel. First, the character developement is phenomenal. By the end, Celaya's family could have lived next door to me my whole life and I would not have known them any better. Inocencio is clearly the old school, hard working, doting father and husband. Celaya's mom is very much the fiery tempered but loving mother and wife. And the Awful Grandmother is just as horrible as her name suggests; that is, until you get to know her story. Which leads me to my second favorite thing, the mixing of generations to creat one combined plot. The reader jumps from Celaya's story to that of the Awful Grandmother to that of Inocencio with a clarity not often found in this type of book. Such a multigenerational story is not only a good read, providing many plot twists; but it lends to better cultural understanding and character understanding. Thirdly, I enjoyed how the supernatural was worked into the story without creating a fuss. For instance, Celaya talks with the Awful Grandmother after she (the Awful Grandmother) has died to bargain for the life of Inocencio. Not many authors are able to mix the supernatural with real life so easily and without overdoing it. All in all, I very much enjoyed this book, and think it should be at the top of everyone's book list.
paranguricutirimicuaro More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader and this is honestly the first book that I can relate to being a mexican american. So many latino books deal with gangs or drugs or barrios that only relate to a small amount of latinos. For mexican americans there is not much literature out there. I understood so much of the characters and the story under the surface about class differences and the color of your skin that is not easily understood outside of the latino culture. Great book and i will keep it for my daughter when she gets older.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved Women of Hollering Creek and waited for this much celebrated book Caramelo expecting the same from Cisneos. However, I tried reading it 2 times and each time I felt it was very rough at the beginning. A friend said the ending was great but I never was able to get that far. I abandoned this book after 2 tries. I am an avid reader and it is rare that I ever abandon a book. I am sorry to say that Caramelo has great details, but the transitions are very rough. I think Cisneros is more a short story writer than a novelist. Waiting for more from her later.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I have never read another author that writes like Sandra Cisneros. Her style is unique. She doesn¿t use quotation marks which is something I haven¿t seen before. Instead she uses ¿¿¿ at the beginning of the quote or dialogue. This helps make the novel more interesting by making it more unique. At times it can be confusing though because you don¿t know if someone is still talking or if it is Celaya, or Lala as she is sometimes called, narrating the book. For example, at one point in the story the author writes, ¿¿I told you, Baby says to Fat-Face. ¿ I told you he wouldn¿t like it, but who listens to me?¿'pg. 291' You have to think about if for a while whether Lala says the ¿but who listens to me?¿ part or if Baby says this. After the first hundred pages or so you start to get used to her writing and knowing the difference between quotes and the narrator is easy. I love how Cisneros uses Spanish in Caramelo as well. I take Spanish in school and it is fun to apply what I have learned to the book. Even if you don¿t know any Spanish, Cisneros translates a lot of it into English right after it is said. You will have a few new Spanish words to add to your vocabulary after reading this book. Because the setting of the story is often in Mexico and deals with many events from the Mexico¿s history, Cisneros put little notes at the end of each chapter to explain events, phrases, or people she uses. Sometimes she even explains a little something extra about a character that was not revealed in the current topic of the story. At one point Lala explains while telling a story about her grandmother, ¿At times she would say, I am sad. Is my father perhaps sad and thinking of me at this moment too? Or, I am hungry and cold. Perhaps my father is hungry and cold at this very moment.*¿ then at the end of the chapter a ¿*¿ would be next to the explanation that, ¿Later she will learn there is no home to go back to¿¿ 'pg. 101' Cisneros explains that the Mexican Revolution began and there were several explanations about what happened to Soledad¿s father. The little explanations can help readers understand the story better. Cisneros definitely deserves credit for being original. Like I said before, I have never read another book by an author like Cisneros. The characters in the story are very original and believable. When the family gets together at the Awful Grandmother¿s house, and the author describes all of the aunts, uncles and cousins, the reader can find many characters in the book that remind them of someone in their family. The reader can easily picture the fights and conversations between the family members and laugh because they have been there before. Of course there is the annoying suck-up cousin that everyone knows and the bold cousin that leads all of the games between the cousins. Don¿t forget the grandpa that secretly gives you special treatment like allowing you to not finish your dinner because it ¿made needles on your tongue¿ even though your grandma said you had to or you got no dessert 'pg. 55'. The story is unlike any I have ever read and it is not likely I will find one that even comes close to it. It shows you a different perspective on life you may not have pictured before. I would probably read another book written by this author. I enjoyed her unique writing style and originality.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sandra Cisneros¿ book ¿Caramelo¿ would definitely get a 5 star rating from me. She grabs the reader¿s attention from the very beginning of the novel and keeps it until the last word. Anyone reading this book can easily relate to Lala¿s life and her family even if they have never experienced anything like it. Her style of writing draws the reader into the story and makes them feel what Lala is feeling. For example when she first introduces her family members, the nicknames she has for them like ¿Awful Grandmother¿ ¿Aunty Light-Skin¿ and ¿Uncle Fat Face¿ gives a mental picture of each one that stays with you throughout the entire novel. They become very believable people the minute Lala introduces each one and the chaos that ensues while taking the photograph on the beach in Acapulco. Her style was a very unique blend of English and Spanish. The main character and narrator Lala, was of Hispanic decent, so this type of writing makes sense. Cisneros uses English for the majority of the book, but in many of the sentences she throws in a Spanish word or two for effect and authenticity. This was an impressive part of her writing because even if the reader doesn¿t know what was being said in Spanish, the many things it could be flow through the mind of the reader. Nowhere in the book was there a place at which the reader could get completely confused by the Spanish, Cisneros did a fine job at finding that balance. Not only were the transitions from English to Spanish smooth and easy to follow, the way Cisneros added footnotes of Mexican culture was also an added touch. I enjoy reading works by an author who is able to entice me to read to the next chapter. I don¿t like to force myself to have to keep trudging through a book page by page and Cisneros doesn¿t do that at all. You will find that her style of writing makes you want to read on to find out what happens next as the characters develop and grow until you reach the point at which you feel like you know that character and can relate to them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The novel Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros is a thrilling story of a young girl who grows up with family difficulties. The problems in the novel can relate to the problems one has. Some of the poblems include the family not getting along, fights here and, and also economic issues. Also, it is very easy to relate to a character in the story because the characteristics of a character in the novel can be alike to one's self. One time I felt like I was Lala she was on her way to Mexico! Lala Reyes,the main charater, has demonstrate that life is not easy, but that everything happends for a reason. My favorite part of the novel is when Reyes family takes a trip to Acapulco. The details Cisneros gives about the beaches are so vivid...when I read them I wanted to take a plane and relax under the beautiful sun with the Reyes family. Lala has hated her awful grandmother, Soledad, for a very long time for her rudeness. Grandmother Soledad has brought so many problems to the Reyes family all in the Reyes family hate her, except for her son, Lala's father. The difficulties that she brings the family are pages and pages long, but but the results of them are unexpected and jaw-dropping. When Lala's father is in the hospital, everything seems to fall in place. Awful grandmother finally reveals her feelings for the Reyes family and the family seems to smile again. Overall, with the twist and turns, Cisneros brings to life the beautiful Mexican culture through the Reyes family. This phenomenal novel is a story never to be forgotten.