Caramelo, or Puro Cuento
Caramelo is the story of a Celaya Reyes, a Mexican-American girl trying to make sense of the web of stories around her. National stories, family stories and her own memories are woven together with a few “healthy lies” knotted in to keep the stories going. The title refers to the famed caramelo rebozo, a particularly fine long striped silk shawl with elaborately knotted ends. Celaya’s “awful” grandmother comes from a family of weavers, and her unfinished rebozo becomes a metaphor for both connectedness and the unfinished business of life.
The book starts with childhood memories of Mexico, which was quite a trip down memory lane for me too. There is something about the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of one’s early life that leaves a profound impression, and Cisneros taps into this powerfully. But these memories are, of course, just stories. As she writes at the end of the book, she is homesick for a country that doesn’t exist, that never existed. You can’t go home again.
Celaya’s family memories are amusingly woven into the histories of Mexico and the US, including military service in both countries and unlikely brushes with fame (her father spends a night in jail with Señor Wences, for example). As Celaya grows up her tone and voice acquire teenage frustration and vocabulary, and in due course she follows her ancestors down the rocky road of love.
This book was especially enjoyable because I listened to the audio version narrated by the author herself. The book is semi-autobiographical so Cisneros reads it with authority, and great deal of character. Hearing these stories somehow seems more appropriate than reading them.
It’s hard for me to be objective about this book—so many parts of it intersect with my own story—but the glowing reviews on Amazon and in print suggest to me that anyone would enjoy this book.