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When I Was Puerto Rican Paperback – October 11, 1994


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (October 11, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679756760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679756767
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (177 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,021,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Santiago's artful memoir recounts her childhood in rural Puerto Rico and her teenage years in New York City; also available in a Spanish-language edition, $11 *-75677-9
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 3/2/09
“[Santiagos] story is painful at points, funny in others, but it speaks a universal truth: We never totally leave our past behind.”

Teen Ink, 4/09
“It shows you the trials that immigrants face when they move to the United States, including the many differences in language and culture…Perfect for those who like books that have real meaning.”

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

More About the Author

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Customer Reviews

Esmeralda Santiago's When I Was Puerto Rican is a beautiful novel!
Ron S. Potts
This book really caught my attention and left me feeling like I had to keep on reading to find out what was going to happen.
Christina J. Rodriguez
Santiago excels at creating scenes with great detail, and describing the emotions felt by the characters in the story.
Ted K

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a rich and evocative memoir of the author's chaotic childhood. Growing up in rural Puerto Rico, while often living in primitive conditions, the author's lush and lyrical prose paints a vivid picture her early life. The flavor and rythms of her island home come alive under her expert hand, creating an unforgettable picture of her early childhood.

The author grew up in a poor family. During her childhood, she lived in Puerto Rico with her unmarried parents, who were always at war with each other, as her father was a somewhat irresponsible philanderer. It was her mother who centered the family and who always sought a better life for all of her children. When an irrevocable break occurred between her parents, her mother moved to New York during the nineteen sixties, eventually settling with her seven children in the mean streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York City.

The author details her life's journey from rural Puerto Rico to Brooklyn. The author was transplanted to Brooklyn at the age of thirteen, and her description of her life in Brooklyn is every bit as interesting as that of her life in Puerto Rico. Her oftentimes bewildering transition from her native, Spanish speaking Puerto Rico to an English speaking environment is engagingly chronicled. The author takes the reader on her journey through Brooklyn's public school system to the prestigious High School of Performing Arts, where she graduated and went on to attend Harvard University on a scholarship.

This coming of age memoir is so engagingly written that I was left with the desire of wanting to know more about the life of this remarkable woman. I was also very taken with her writing style. So, I went ahead and bought every book that this author has ever written and look forward to reading each and every one.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Alan Cambeira on November 2, 2003
Format: Paperback
A joyful and proud eulogy to the island of her youth. Santiago is a wonderfully talented voice that exudes passion. The title alone, When I WAS Puerto Rican, is at first intriguing. But we soon learn the profound sense of this past tense usage. I read Santiago's memories in Spanish, which, in my view presents her story in a distinctive poetic prose, rhythm and rhapsody (often characteristic in Spanish) that is absolutely captivating. However, what is most appealing about this autobiogaphy, interwoven delightfully with memorable and richly detailed anecdotes, is the moving revelation that Santiago shares with her readers who don't know what it means to be caught in the agonizing web of dual-identities/dual-allegiances that is largely the Puerto Rican Experience ... as well as other North American immigrant experiences. This writer has presented us with a lyrical gift of enormous joy. High on the list of Must-Read novels, especially those by the new cadre of Latina writers. If you haven't as yet seen the excellent movie version of the sequel to this novel, Almost A Woman, do so. Wanda de Jesus is brilliant in the lead role.
Alan Cambeira
Author of AZUCAR! The Story of Sugar (a novel)
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 5, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a rich and evocative memoir of the author's chaotic childhood. Growing up in rural Puerto Rico, while often living in primitive conditions, the author's lush and lyrical prose paints a vivid picture her early life. The flavor and rythms of her island home come alive under her expert hand, creating an unforgettable picture of her early childhood.

The author grew up in a poor family. During her childhood, she lived in Puerto Rico with her unmarried parents, who were always at war with each other, as her father was a somewhat irresponsible philanderer. It was her mother who centered the family and who always sought a better life for all of her children. When an irrevocable break occurred between her parents, her mother moved to New York during the nineteen sixties, eventually settling with her seven children in the mean streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York City.

The author details her life's journey from rural Puerto Rico to Brooklyn. The author was transplanted to Brooklyn at the age of thirteen, and her description of her life in Brooklyn is every bit as interesting as that of her life in Puerto Rico. Her oftentimes bewildering transition from her native, Spanish speaking Puerto Rico to an English speaking environment is engagingly chronicled. The author takes the reader on her journey through Brooklyn's public school system to the prestigious High School of Performing Arts, where she graduated and went on to attend Harvard University on a scholarship.

This coming of age memoir is so engagingly written that I was left with the desire of wanting to know more about the life of this remarkable woman. I was also very taken with her writing style. So, I went ahead and bought every book that this author has ever written and look forward to reading each and every one.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on April 21, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the most difficult challenges facing a memoirist is the task of making her particular story resonate with universal truths. Esmeralda Santiago's "When I Was Puerto Rican" is a stunning success; it not only captures the dynamics of identity creation, does so in the context of ethnic, class and geographic tensions. Santiago's coming-of-age saga encompasses an incipient awareness of her unique status as an oldest daughter, conflicted thinker and anguished observer of family disintegration. That she writes without a drop of self-pity is remarkable given the abundance of sadness and betrayal which swirl in her story.
For much of her childhood in Puerto Rico and her early adolescence in New York City, Santiago lives a dual life. Possessed of a "stubborn pride," her "frightened self hid" behind a false veneer of acceptance that "everything was all right." At once proud and ashamed of her rural "jibaro" identity, Santiago grapples with exactly who and what she is. In this respect, "When I Was Puerto Rican" reverberates with the near-universal dynamic of identity creation, hidden shame at life's circumstances and constant questioning of how and why families created such tortured environments in which children evolve.
Plaguing Santiago is the ambiguous, tormented relationship between her mother and father. Exposed equally to the sounds of lovemaking and arguments, Santiago can neither be surprised that her parents never wed or the constant absence of her hard-working, poetic but irresponsible father. Eventually, the pressures of this quasi-marital status between Mami and Papi erupt, and Santiago saves her best writing for its description.
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