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Peel My Love Like an Onion Hardcover – September 14, 1999

3.3 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ana Castillo's voice is one of self-confident, hypnotic melancholy. Peel My Love Like an Onion, her fifth book, often reads like a diary rather than a novel--full of dashed-off midnight eloquence but unformed. It's the story of Carmen Santos, a flamenco dancer whose right leg is shriveled from polio. Her family moved from Mexico to Chicago before she was born: "My first language was Spanish but I am not really Mexican. I guess I am Chicago-Mexican." Castillo sees the immigrant experience as a minefield of ironies. Carmen works at the Domino's in the airport as a way of being a productive American, thus gaining her father's respect. One morning on a "power walk" she realizes that the shoes she is wearing may have been made in a sweatshop by some distant relative from "somewhere... very foreign, like seaweed-and-black-fungus-in-French-Vietnamese-soup foreign."

As the book moves back and forth between Carmen's dreams of economic and emotional freedom and her erotic life (in which passion often feels as much like a trap as a release), Castillo's fluid style often lapses into carelessness. And there is a blurred quality to many of the images, like photographs taken from a moving car. Carmen's story is most engaging when she experiences isolated moments of independence: flamenco dancing, for instance, for the customers at a hair salon where she is working, dragging her bad leg around in front of the ladies under the hair dryers. The scene--a moment to relish--is almost heroic in its defiance of the exhausted world. --Emily White

From Publishers Weekly

Confirming her reputation as a talented writer, Castillo's (So Far from God) sardonic and seductive novel flowers at the exotic intersection of Chicago's flamenco, Gypsy and Chicano communities, where Carmen Santos, a defiant ex-flamenco dancer, struggles with the end of her career and the dissolution of a passionate love triangle. Left with a crippled leg after a childhood bout of polio, Carmen has always been defined by those around herAher parents, the school for the disabled she attended, her lovers and her public, who know her as "La Coja" (the cripple). It is only when she is dancing that she is sure of her identity, and as polio belatedly reasserts itself in her 40-year-old body, she feels she is losing the core of her existence. Then, like her legs, her two Gypsy loversAAgust!n, the married leader of her troupe, and Manolo, a fiery young dancer and Agust!n's godsonAabandon her. After 17 years as a dancer and a sensual being, Carmen is reduced to working in a sweatshop, at an airport pizza joint and as a corn-on-the-cob peddler. Most difficult of all, she is forced to move back into the family home, where her crotchety mother erodes her spirit. Dependent, stubborn, naive and heartbreakingly vulnerable, Carmen is a realistically flawed and lively survivor. In the person of her indomitable protagonist, Castillo's trademark feminist and border-crossing concerns acquire a new depth and complexity. Her writing has matured, and she keeps her own voice unobtrusive, stitching a seamless narrative. The pace here does not match the breakneck velocity of her previous works, nor does the novel strain for elaborate effects or call upon magic realism, yet its verve is unflinching. As careful an achievement as the patient peeling of an onion, this compulsively readable narrative should delight, and expand, Castillo's audience. Agent, Susan Bergholz. Author tour. (Sept.) FYI: Castillo's first and second novels, The Mixquiahuala Letters and Sapogonia, will be reissued in trade paperback by Anchor.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (September 14, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385496761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385496766
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #482,373 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Carmen la Coja soars through her life like a bird with giant wings, refusing to relent in the face of incredible obstacles, and still manages to be brilliant and sexy and desired. In the Flamenco world, Carmen is a symbol of grace and beauty, of amazing passes and fluid movements, and as a part of this world, even though she is not "gitana" she delves into that world as if she is a native. A polio-crippled Mexican-American from Chicago, Carmen faces life with spunk and a fearless sense of fate that carries her through passionate love affairs with two dazzling Gypsy dancers whose own bond of filial honor results in her desertion and eventual reclamation, albeit after is is too late. That Carmen triumphs at last in the Flamenco world is a tribute to her luck as well as to her devotion and faithfulness to her old friends and family. That she struggles on despite physical debilities that would stymy many others brings her the success that she has long deserved, as well as the fulfillment of her dreams and longings for security and love. This is an exciting novel, full of love and lust, magic and mystique. A must read!!
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Format: Paperback
What a lovely piece of writing by Castillo. As I started reading 'Peel my love'I couldn't leave before finishing it. The novel fluctuates between different feelings: pity for Carmen (the crippled heroine), sympathy, admiration. Castillo seems to emphasize that if one feels crippled it is one's soul that is crippled that keeps one motionless. It is not physical cripplness that only detains one's decisions. Cripplness within is much more dangerous. One's inertia might be caused by customs and traditions that obstruct one's capabilities.
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Format: Paperback
From beginning to end, Carmen "La Coja" (the cripple) is a woman who is as loveable and insecure as your best friend. The author's skillful dialog is some of the best I've ever read. The wry humor and tongue-in-cheek observations made me laugh out loud. Carmen's mother who shouts on the phone when she talks long distance reminded me of my own mom. Carmen's mother has lived a hard working life, and now in her later years, God help the person who comes between her and her afternoon novelas.
Carmen fully plunges her passionate spirit into her lovers and into her dance. Polio and lack of education color her life, as does her beauty. The book plays the extremes: ecstacy and despair, devotion and revenge, health and illness, discipline and abandonment, Gypsy, Mexicana and Gringa.
The novel is deliciously laced with Gypsy music and folklore, Mexican family life, love, cooking, lovers, and of course dance. Like Hemmingway in "The Old Man and the Sea," the author uses a light, simple touch, natural dialog, and understated, narrative. It's a book to bring to bed... unless of course your lover is waiting.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am always on the lookout for English language flamenco novels, of which there don't appear to be many. This one was interesting because it takes place in the United States and also brings attention to the fact that people who have "had" polio can experience it again after years of remission. The Gypsy culture, while transplanted, remains the same as I've read in non-fiction books about those in Spain. The heroine goes through some intense highs and lows. The cover blurb indicated some of her experiences would be humorous; personally, I didn't find anything amusing. Interesting book, good characterizations.
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Format: Hardcover
This novel is a product of a mixed and multicultural writer. I'm European and for our culture American multiculturalism is becoming a model for openness, but at the same tgime for closure. Carmen could be no one and everyone.She is a Chicago Mexican and a Gypsy. Her homelands are Central America and Eastern and Mediterranean Europe. Historically, these two geographical places share a common culture based on spirituality and music, but also on strict patriarchal principles embued with severe moral issues. Flamenco is a way-out, rejection of consumist and materialist society. Carmen lives a fake romantic existence and dreams of the sea, Spain, other beautiful places her lovers have described her. When she travels to Germany there is only tears and disappointment with their own history based on wars. The novel could be discussed in thousands of aspects, but here is neither place nor time. I was wondering about postmodern elements in the novel, as I'm writing my final thesis about this. If someone could help me? I hope to meet Ana Castillo in Europe-actually, in Italy!
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Format: Hardcover
So, ok you're a flamenco star and you're 40 years old, and your lovers are both younger and older dancers. But how did you go from working at the airport to recoring music, living at home to buying a condo? I loved your "voice" Carmen, but some where along the way your vida loca just didn't seem real.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This may be one of my favorite books now. A required read for a class became a love affair for words. This books reads beautifully, the characters dancing off the pages, taking your hand and spinning you through the various chapters of their lives. A must read for anyone.
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By Marta on December 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
Strong and smooth like the beats of flamenco Castillo wrote this novel to defy patriarchy. Carmen--Castillo's main character--refuses being possessed by any of her lovers. How? Read the novel. It is an impressive novel indeed.
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