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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A charmer
Exhibiting a humor that is at once Mexican, American, and Mexican-American, Sandra Cisneros tells the story of an immigrant family that is as universal and yet particular as these stories are. Lala Reyes is the seventh child of the family and the only girl. They live in Chicago, where her dad and his two brothers run an upholstery shop. There are cousins (my favorites are...
Published on October 1, 2002 by Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader

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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It didn't flow for me.
I found the story good, but not riveting--when I could find it.
All the descriptive prose and Spanish phraseology were a distraction. I realize the author was painting a (very big) picture of sights, sounds and smells etc. but it often seemed to me that the thread of the story was buried in all that description. Anyone who knows a fair amount of Spanish and knows...
Published on November 22, 2002


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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A charmer, October 1, 2002
This review is from: Caramelo (Hardcover)
Exhibiting a humor that is at once Mexican, American, and Mexican-American, Sandra Cisneros tells the story of an immigrant family that is as universal and yet particular as these stories are. Lala Reyes is the seventh child of the family and the only girl. They live in Chicago, where her dad and his two brothers run an upholstery shop. There are cousins (my favorites are three brothers named Elvis, Byron, and Aristotle), looong caravan-style car trips to Mexico City to visit the Awful Grandmother, and some snooping into the past by Lala.
The Awful Grandmother was once a girl called Soledad, whose father was a dyer of rebozos, the traditional Mexican shawl, and whose mother was renowned for her intricate knotting of the fringes. All that remains of their art in the family is a rebozo with unfinished fringes, a caramelo, a shawl dyed in stripes the colors of caramel, licorice, and vanilla which appears around the shoulders of generations of women.
The plot winds and circles, often ending up in surprising places. "Caramelo" is a long book, but it could have been longer--many of the minor characters are unfinished and there's a sense that Cisneros had such a wealth of stories to tell that she simply could not stuff them all between these covers. The writing is so bright and fine I would have been happy to spend another hundred pages with the Reyes family.
My sole quibble with "Caramelo" is the extensive use of Spanish words and phrases. If readers do not speak Mexican Spanish, will they miss the full flavor of the novel? Would we be as willing to accept a book peppered with this much Hungarian or French? I would hate to think that some readers would find this a turn-off and feel excluded from Sandra Cisneros' rich and delightful story.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ms. Cisneros ensnares the reader with her warm, wry humor, October 15, 2002
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Caramelo (Hardcover)
CARAMELO, the gorgeous new novel by Sandra Cisneros, begins with a portrait taken on a summer trip to Acapulco, one of those spontaneous group shots offered by photographers who comb the beach to record memories, real or manufactured. All of the members of the Reyes family are there...all except for Lala, the youngest, forgotten a few yards away as she happily makes sandcastles. And so Lala spends the rest of the book painting a portrait of her own.
It's impossible not to love an author who names her characters "the Awful Grandmother," "Aunty Light-Skin" and "Uncle Old." Cisneros's warm, wry humor has been on display since THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET, and in her latest blended book (equal parts American and Mexican influence), she ensnares us again. This is Lala's story, first and foremost, but it's also the story of so many other things --- of growing up in two cultures, of growing up in general, of family life and daily upheaval, of class and racial strife. The Reyes family travels south to Mexico City each summer to spend time with Inocencio's parents, his heavy-handed mother and henpecked father. Thirteen running, screaming kids caught between the Chicago culture of their daily lives and the Mexican roots of their parents. Three daughters-in-law left to stew in their own juices when mama's around. One hundred reasons why, we soon learn, everything is not OK.
We watch things unfold through Lala's eyes, even the things she was not there to witness. She is an always-precocious narrator. Of Aunty Light-Skin's secretarial job, for example, we're told that she wears beautiful cocktail dresses and high heels, and is picked up each day by her big-shot boss. Lala overhears her mother and aunts' ridicule, but does not spell out the details. Readers can draw their own conclusions about Aunty's "profession." Our narrator admits her unreliability --- she remembers things that didn't happen, forgets some that did, and puts others into a different context. Of a disagreement with her mother, she pictures a dusky confrontation. But Lala knows it took place during the day.
Lala also guides us through history. She tells the Grandmother's story, how she became "Awful," before she became proud. She tells of her grandfather's great lost love, who was most certainly not her grandmother. She fills holes with her own romantic notions, adding details and drama where before there were none (in an amusing twist, the Awful Grandmother plays the interrupting listener, questioning Lala's every interpretation and insisting that her granddaughter play up the love story). Through Cisneros's beautiful prose, the Awful Grandmother becomes vulnerable: "It was dizzying to decide one's fate, because, to tell the truth, she'd never made any decision regarding her own life, but rather had floated and whirled about like a dry leaf in a swirl of foamy water."
When the Reyeses move from Chicago to San Antonio in Lala's 14th year, her life only becomes more complicated. So much the better for the reader. Cisneros's footnotes, explaining Mexican cultural references and character background, alone are worth the read. Lala endures the usual miserable adolescence, and Cisneros captures her petulant voice right down to the apostrophes: "The two guys in suits think we've stolen something. I mean, how do you like that? 'Cause we're teenagers, 'cause we're brown, 'cause we're not rich enough, right?"
Cisneros has said she began CARAMELO as a short story, but it kept growing. The semi-autobiographical work offers a lesson in Mexican history as well as in how to tell "healthy lies" --- the ones that don't hurt anyone. The significance of the title surfaces many times over. It's the color of the rebozo left to Lala when her grandmother dies; the skin of the servant girl who gives Lala a later-in-life epiphany; the mixed heritage of a Mexican-American family that remembers "a country I am homesick for, that doesn't exist anymore, that never existed." This fictional work of nonfiction turns out to be mainly fiction after all. Lala tells too many healthy lies to make it otherwise.
It's impossible not to compare Cisneros's multigenerational tale to THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS or ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, but unlike Isabel Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cisneros's magic comes from actual realism. Each word is a brushstroke. Lala's story is one of construction, and truth, and consequence, but ultimately one of memory. As her grandfather is once told, "Remembering is the hand of god. I remember you, therefore I make you immortal." Just try not to remember Lala Reyes and her colorful family history. Cisneros has painted quite a picture.
--- Reviewed by Toni Fitzgerald
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece!, October 6, 2002
By 
Laura Duet (Downers Grove, Illinois USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Caramelo (Hardcover)
Clearly, Sandra Cisneros is a genius! This is one of the best books I have ever read. The story is completely engaging and I really fell in love with the characters. The writing is out of this world, in a word it is exquisite. The story is a multi-generational tale of a family who is Mexican-American. I am attracted to books that tell a story of a culture I am unfamiliar with and then after reading such a book I am very interested in people of that culture. This is such a book. Along with that it is just a great, great read. Do not hesitate to get this book, and if you have a chance to see Sandra Cisneros at a reading do whatever you need to to get there, she is wonderful in person, funny, warm, and engaging. This book gets my highest recommendation! I am lucky to have read it.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It didn't flow for me., November 22, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Caramelo (Hardcover)
I found the story good, but not riveting--when I could find it.
All the descriptive prose and Spanish phraseology were a distraction. I realize the author was painting a (very big) picture of sights, sounds and smells etc. but it often seemed to me that the thread of the story was buried in all that description. Anyone who knows a fair amount of Spanish and knows idioms and colloquial sayings would not find that element to be a problem. True, some meanings could be understood from the contxt or the explanation, but even with Spanish dictionary in hand it was too much for me. I finally just skipped it, but felt this caused me to lose a lot of appreciation for the story.
The writing didn't flow for me and I kept wishing the story could have been told in a more straightforward way.
I would like to suggest translations in () to assist non-Hispanic readers. The Spanish languge is beautiful and knowing more of what I was reading would have added a lot.
Let me also say that I own and have read the authors other books and love them greatly. I also found them to be much edgier and the writing does flow, or maybe soar would be a more apt description!!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is my life, my childhood, my memories, September 21, 2005
By 
Jessica D. Cole (Goodland, Kansas United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Caramelo (Paperback)
I am the daughter of a Mexican woman, born in San Antonio who died three years ago. I spent many summers driving between Northwest Kansas and Mexico City. As time sometimes does, this read made me realize how lucky I am to have a background with two cultures. Reading this book was like spending afternoons with my mother and my mexican extended family. Not a page went by that I didn't laugh, wince (I, too got a bad haircut on a mexican road trip,) sigh, or most of the time, cry. I kept telling my husband, this book is me, this book is my childhood. I am in a book club, and was pleased to find out that all eight of us loved the book, but none quite as much as me. Thank you Sandra!! I feel like we could sit down over a warm bowl of fideo soup (which I make for my family all the time) and chat.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This rebozo unraveled - Este rebozo se destejio, November 18, 2002
By 
"elverdulero" (Sonoma, California) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Caramelo (Hardcover)
Cisneros's talent has been confirmed by Mango St and Woman Hollering Creek, her two fiction offerings from the past,and by the poetry of Loose Woman, loaded with a language deftly conjured and tooled, and achieving an alchemy that puts her among the very best American, not just Chicana, poets of our day. Given the talent she obviously owns, Caramelo is a big disappointment. It can hardly be called a novel, since it lacks the unity and resolution of theme that might make it one. It is instead a collection of unevenly written vignettes that would tell the story of three generations in the narrator's family, and contains precious few examples of fine writing among the eighty-odd little pieces. Much of the text is marred with forced metaphors, non-sequitors, redundance, and curio-shop descriptions - contrived and colorful and meant to appeal to tourist readers from outside the culture.
There is a list of bad habits in this book. The penchant for transliterated Spanish terms and phrases, instead of sensible translations that might convey their original irony and wit, is a device that now and then does produce the third dimension of a funny nuance or flip in meaning, but more often not, and the non-hispanic reader is left with a convoluted mutation of the original language. The oft-repeated dialectic of fact vs. fiction throughout is frivolous, adding nothing to the integrity of the book - it comes off as veiled apology for an identity crisis. The chance encounters of some of the main characters with famous historical figures, ala Forrest Gump, comes off as a gimmicky device, a filler; the book's format has other fillers: banal historical footnotes, roomy episodic headings, and lots of blank page space.
Another acute fault: the campy, diluted treatment given to what could have been dramatic encounters and unmasked moments, both amorous and contentious, between spouses and lovers - they are instead left to sputter clipped, insipid chatter concocted from a thin lexicon. We Mexicanos have a rich oral lexicon, displayed at every level and class of society -(our illiterate campesinos are, as a group, more eloquent in speech than most north american college graduates, whose oral skills have been truncated by addiction to electronic data)- and there should have been no lack of eloquence and verbosity in those encounters. Along with their paucity of dialogue, I found a paucity of truth in some of those encounters and actions, and I don't mean historic veracity or convention, I mean truth of character. Large doses of serendipity cannot substitute for that.
The linguistic talent, and heart to match, which I had hoped to find throughout the book appear only in scant doses here and there in the first two-thirds; we are finally treated to the true size of the author's talent in a few of the third part's episodes, dealing with moments from the narrator's adolescence. In these the language is honed, the humor is wicked and takes no prisoners, and that uncanny reach Cisneros has into the depth of the hidden self, into her heart of hearts which is ours too, because in it is a universal immigrant experience and a wide berth of compassion, does happen. Here is the gift of her linguistic prism, passed over honest moments of a young woman's life. (Again, "honest" having nothing to do with the fact vs. invention riddle, which is irrelevant).
What is proposed at the book's incipience as a major, if not the major, unifying device, the legenday "caramelo" style rebozo of the title - which survives as a near-sacred relic through the family saga - is never really given that place. It is reduced to occasional metaphoric allusions and incidental appearances here and there.
There are inconsistencies and hollows in some of the characters. For example, the "Awful Grandmother," a personage which should have by book's end stood large and commanding if not felicitous, ends up a mere caricature, bereft of the valor and tenderness of heart suggested in moments from her young life. The scene towards the end, where her ghost confronts Laya (the narrator) in the hospital while she keeps vigil by her father's bedside, appears as a desperate attempt to give substance and resolution to a character which has been two-dimensional and inconsistent through much of the book. Her sudden and unexplainable sympathetic conversion, and the trendy guru-like platitudes that are put in her mouth, are a maudlin quick-fix. My goodness, if the narrator has the aplomb and license to totally invent somewhat interesting ironies and speech for the historical figures that she inserts here and there, couldn't she have done as much for one of her main and supposedly geneological characters?
I am not surprised by the plethora of smoochy reviews from trade associates of the author that have greeted the book, but I am surprised by the absence of her true talent in it. As a Chicano who believes we have barely begun to explore the potential inherent in a literature of our people's experience, on a truly world-class level, I feel that the kind of uncritical, "sheltered" reviews our few famous writers usually get are an insult, implying, "We don't want to break with fashion, and we don't expect any better from you, so we'll just patronize you as a genre author." It may be culturally and politically safe, but it is patronizing.
If we really believe there are Chicana/o authors who can produce on a world class level, then we should demand that from them, and break out of the "school-play" syndrome. We shouldn't treat our authors like kids, for whom we will applaud no matter how off-key they sing or how many lines they flub in the school play. This is the big-time, with alot at stake. When an author like Cisneros has shown that she's got it, and furthermore, continues to claim that she's got it, then she better show it. She's representing more than herself, she's representing our people.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, occasionally syrupy narrative, October 1, 2002
By 
stackofbooks "stackofbooks" (Walpole, MA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Caramelo (Hardcover)
Caramelo is a multi-generational tale of the Keyes family as related by Lala or Celaya, the "favorite child of a favorite child". Lala weaves together stories about her family's past, and tries in the process, to find a place for herself in the picture. There is Awful Grandmother, who we know, really was a sweet, tortured Soledad as a child. Then there is Uncle Fat-Face, Aunty Light-Skin amongst others, all of whom have wonderful stories to tell. Caramelo starts off with a family vacation the Reyes family is taking to Mexico. Long ago, the Reyes brothers moved to Chicago from Mexico to try their fortunes in the upholstery business. This "vacation" is more of a religious duty than anything else. Lala complains, "All year the apartment looks like a store. A year's worth of collecting merchandise for the trip South." The trip this time, ends with a hint at a family secret which is revealed only much later in the book.
Cisneros traces Lela's family's past systematically through most of its members and ultimately arrives upon Lala's own search for an identity in a new "home". Cisneros's language is beautiful and earthy, and there is a fair amount of Spanish thrown in.
Like most "emigrants caught between here and there", Lala is an expert spectator when she visits Mexico: "Toc, says the light switch in this country, at home it says click. Honk, say the cars at home, here they say tan-tan-tan." I find that Lala wears rosy glasses when she views Mexico. Of course, this is only to be expected, as Lala explains, "Every year I cross the border, it's the same-my mind forgets. But my body always remembers." The slight detraction that emerges though is that very often Lala tends to overly romanticize the past. Her characters are loud, earthy, wonderful, caring, human beings but sometimes that can be too much of a good thing.
In a footnote (one of many) in the book, Cisneros argues that a Mexican soap opera or telenovela is not really bad storytelling-"it is a story that has tried to emulate Mexican life." The telenovela, Cisneros explains, is storytelling at its best, since "it has the power of a true Scheherazade-it keeps you coming back for more." I would then apply the same definiton to Caramelo. The narrative might be a bit syrupy, but you will come back for more.
The Caramelo in the novel's title refers to the intricate caramel-colored, striped rebozo (silk shawl) that Lala has claimed for her own from her grandmother. This particular rebozo, like most others, has intricate knotted fringes, but there is a part that is left unfinished. As we read the novel, we realize how very much like the Caramelo rebozo, the Reyes family is-a family with lives strongly interconnected, yet with a bit of unfinished fringe at the end.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As yummy as pan dolce, April 28, 2003
This review is from: Caramelo (Hardcover)
The voice of Celaya, the youngest child of seven and the only daughter, tells her family's history in this marvelous book that rambles back and forth across the Mexican border, detours into 'Notes' about Mexico's history, and meanders through three generations of the Reyes clan.
Sandra Cisneros's distinctive and poetic voice rings out in all the music of the Spanish language with which this book is so liberally seasoned. She tells her 'cuenta' through many, many, many very short chapters, each of which is usually a little family anecdote that, strung together like the beads of a rosary, form a loop that completes this tale of history and mystery, of love and jealousy, of sin and forgiveness - and most of all of joy and celebration.
Caramelo, titled in honor of an unfinished striped antique rebozo (shawl) in which the fringe is partially unknotted, is a beautiful offering for Cisneros fans, like a platter of colorful tropical fruits.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful multi-generational tale, March 1, 2003
By 
Karen Potts (Lake Jackson, Texas) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Caramelo (Hardcover)
Sandra Cisneros is a master at sketching word pictures and creating characters which are so real that they practically leap off the pages of her book, Caramelo. She details the life of a large Hispanic family, who take an annual trip to Mexico to visit with the grandparents of the main character, Lala Reyes. Cisneros follows the Reyes family back for three generations, and makes her characters understandable because of what they've been through. The family lives in Chicago and San Antonio, and the details of their everyday life ring true. Cisneros paints the lives of these characters, warts and all, and shows outsiders what it's like for a young girl to live in a family with no privacy, but with bonds that securely link these characters together. There is a lot to be learned about the Hispanic culture between these pages, and the reader is left a lot wiser for having read this book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved Caramelo, November 28, 2004
This review is from: Caramelo (Paperback)
I am a black gay man and I loved this book. It's not just a beautiful trip through Mexican culture, but it's also a story that all humans can relate to. A story of family, perseverance through adversity and a story of finding the way to loving ones self.

Extraordinary. I am now officially a fan of Cisneros.
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Caramelo
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (Paperback - September 9, 2003)
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