Readers have waited years for another story from the pen of Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street and chronicler of the Latin-American female experience. Now, in her new novel, Caramelo, Cisneros offers the tale of the Reyes clan, a migrant Mexican family, and their lives traipsing between Mexico City, Chicago, and San Antonio.
While the novel is massive, almost 450 pages, the chapters are short and punchy and the action unfolds in classic Cisneros style. The authorial voice is lively and active, incorporating Spanish and English and relying on everything from TV commercials to Spanish love songs to move the plot forward. As in The House on Mango Street, Caramelo's narrator is a young girl, trapped between childhood and the complex world of grownups, who struggles to invent the home that is uncertainly located "between here and there."
Celaya is the youngest of seven Reyes children and the only girl. Every summer they travel with her uncles' families like a tribe of Bedouins from inner-city Chicago to the vastly different world of Mexico City. Her father's mother, known as The Awful Grandmother, isolates her daughters-in-law and her grandchildren, doting exclusively on her firstborn and favorite son, Celaya's father. In an attempt to understand her angry and impenetrable grandmother, Celaya tries to recount the story of the old woman's life, a story that took place when Celaya was "still dirt," not yet born. She wants to know how The Awful Grandmother came to be so terrible.
However, as she investigates and composes the story of her grandmother and that of the Reyes clan's ancestors, she uncovers secrets that have long been hidden--and chooses to expose them. The voice of her grandmother nags and reprimands her as she struggles to write: "Lies, lies. Nothing but lies from beginning to end. I don't know why I trusted you with my beautiful story."
Celaya persists and, through retelling the tales of The Awful Grandmother and the history of the larger-than-life Reyes family, she finally comprehends her own complicated, bicultural relationship with her family, with America and Mexico, and with herself. It makes for another magnificent story that only Cisneros' unique voice could tell.