- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (April 20, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375413758
- ISBN-13: 978-0375413759
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,467,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Caramba!: A Tale Told in Turns of the Card 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Lava Landing, Calif., home of a dormant volcano and the annual Miss Magma beauty pageant, is the setting for this effervescent, luminous debut. Although the novel has a slew of protagonists, readers first meet Natalie and Consuelo (Nat and Sway), two firecrackers with an "ever growing fascination with the wideness of the world." Sway's father is recently deceased and stuck in purgatory ("The Perg"); the only way to get him out is to go to his hometown in Mexico, gather the townspeople, visit the railroad tracks where he was killed and pray for him. As Sway has a phobia of long car rides and public transportation, Nat must go. Meanwhile, Martínez, in a bubbly mix of English and Spanglish, spins a plethora of side plots, among them the struggle of a born-again Christian mariachi who falls for an ex-convict; the search for true love by Lulabell, who's fashioned an anthropological map of Mexico detailing which regions are known for which kinds of men; and the triumph of True-Dee, a frustrated drag queen/beautician. Martínez draws on magical realism, kitschy humor and tongue-in-cheek clichés (e.g., "True-Dee was oh so nervous as she walked into the Bowling Alley Café"), but there's truth behind the zany humor. Martínez's soap opera-silly story belies serious truth telling about love and happiness in life and death. And as if the fabulously ludicrous plot weren't enough, Martínez illustrates her work with "artifacts," including Mexican Lotería cards, letters written by True-Dee to an advice columnist and the classified ad Lulabell runs in the local paper, selling her soul to the highest bidder.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Martinez strikes a fresh, feisty pop-culture pose here, resembling a cross between Gabriel García Márquez, John Irving, Tom Robbins, and Monty Python. Critics admire her exuberance, but comment that it often veers into slap-dash slapstick. Splashy references to Cal-Mex music, dance, and cuisine, combined with vivid illustrations, richen the skimpy characterization and somewhat plodding plot (akin to Thelma and Louise without the push-up bra). Some readers found the Spanglish clear in context, but others demanded a dictionary. Nevertheless, critics expect big things from this debut author, an alumna of UC Santa Cruz’s Creative Writing program. As they point out: the best of her work is yet to come.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Who else? well you'd like to know Tru-Dee, the "transtite" hairdresser in town. She's done on the top, hasn't started the bottom -- which tends to put a bit of drama into the after hours dates with the cowboys she picks up at the dances down at the bar.
I giggled and snorted, it's naughty but never smutty, and a lot of fun -- especially if you have more than a smattering of experience in Mexican lives and loves. Try it -- it's a great mood lifter
The ambiance is pure Chicano. Mexican and American pop cultures blend in a potpourri that makes a culture all its own with Spanglish as its language. Witchcraft and the folkloric wisdom of common Mexican proverbs are perfectly at home alongside yard sales, Tupperware parties, and trendy American fashions and music.
The novel is really a series of vignettes featuring six major characters. Their stories are loosely bound together by plot lines that are not as important as the characters themselves and their dreams of finding true love.
The principal characters are life-long best friends Consuelo Constancia González Contreras (who legally changed her name to Consuelo Sin Vergüenza) and her pal Natalie. Nat and Sway's principal quest is to free Consuelo from her phobia of public transportation and fear of traveling more than 30 miles from her home. The phobias stem from the fact that Sway lost her father, don Pancho Macías Contreras, who, while drunk, passed out on railroad tracks and got clobbered by an oncoming train.
Don Pancho, a womanizer still during his long stay in Purgatory, visits the girls in their nightmares. He pleads for them to round up the citizens of his village in Mexico to pray for him, and thus spring him from Purgatory into his hacienda heaven where, incidentally, only English is spoken.
Then there's Javier, a born again Christian who uses his mariachi band to sing the songs of repentance and salvation. His evangelizing has yet to clinch his sexy mother Lulabell's salvation. She herself is struggling between handing her soul over to the Lord or to the Devil. While singing of salvation at the local jail, Javier becomes enamored of the alluring, drug-dealing prisoner Lucha who turns out to be his half sister. Javier concludes "God is much more complicated than I thought."
True-Dee, a transvestite, runs the local beauty parlor, and is a friend of all the girls. She longs for the true love of one good man.
There is a full cast of secondary characters just as quirky, such as La Señora Linda, a super-psychic, whose powers fail when it comes to her run-down house "in dire need of a new roof and a paint job."
The book is punctuated with illustrations of menus, grocery lists, Lulabell's map of Mexican men, jukebox listings, classifieds, letters to an advice columnist, and cut-outs for Mexican paper dolls.
The improbable--Lulabell's message from Jesus scribbled in the guacamole of her tortilla--is juxtaposed alongside the mundane--La Yarda tag sale.
Binding the vignettes together is the theme best expressed by Lulabell: "Love is a lot of hard work and sufferin, and it don't never end." Yet the suffering is worth it. Don Pancho says Hell is a place where "You will never know love".
The language is wonderful, borrowing from both English and Spanish in getting exactly the right word. Lulabell informs her Alberto, "If you wanna be my mero mero pistolero, then you've gots to do some hoochie coochie conmigo."
And if the exact word doesn't exist in either language, Martínez invents the perfectly appropriate one. For example, Nat and Sway talk of potential "disastrophes" while making their "primperations for the Baile Grande". As Nat says, "English is a live language. It's always changin."
The author has an ear for the sounds of words and pays close attention to the rhythm of her phrases. Entire passages beg to be read aloud.
While someone who speaks only English can enjoy the novel, a bilingual reader will be laughing more, missing none of the innuendos or nuances!
The artwork is enchanting and adds so much to the story. It gives the feeling that you are a part of the book & the exploits of the characters. The people populating this book have stayed with me ~ I miss them & want MORE!