My mother-in-law passed along to me a novel by Sandra Cisneros, the author of The House on Mango Street, which I can’t remember if I’ve read or not. This book, Caramelo, focuses on several generations of a Mexican-American family.
It’s a book that is much more character-driven than plot-driven. In fact, when people asked me what it was about, I had a hard time answering. I coudn’t give a synopsis of this book, because it’s all about people and their thoughts and faults and relationships. Toward the end of the book, there was a section that seemed to be exactly what I’d want to tell someone this book is “about”:
Names, dates, a person, a spoon, the wingtips my father buys at Maxwell Street and before that in Mexico City, the great-grandfather who stank like a shipyard from dyeing rebozos black all day, the car trips to Mexico and Acapulco, refresco Lulu soda pop, taquitos de canasta hot and sweating from a basket, your name on a grain of rice, crema de nacar sold on the street with a vendor doling out free samples like dollops of sour cream, feathered Matachines dancing in front of the cathedral on the Virgin’s birthday, a servant girl crying on television because she’s lost and doesn’t know where in Mexico City she lives, the orange Naugahyde La-Z-Boy.
Yep. That’s what this book is about.
I struggled with this book. While I enjoy character-driven stories, with this one there was so much character and so little plot that there was no excitement of wondering what’s going to happen next. Because what happened was not really important. And that fact kept me from being captivated by suspense.
The other trouble I had with Caramelo is that Cisneros sprinkled so much Spanish into the story that I had a hard time following it because I don’t know Spanish. I was constantly wondering, “How important is it for me to know the meaning of that word? Can I grasp the context of this character’s feelings without knowing what exactly it was she said to her granddaughter?” And I think that usually I could, but I felt constantly distracted and frustrated.
To a bilingual reader, I’m sure this book would be a much easier read. To someone who doesn’t care so much about plot, it may be intriguing. But while the descriptions were beautiful, the book just didn’t hold my attention.