Do you ever feel like you see or hear something for a reason? I couldn’t help but feel that way while reading Sandra Cisneros’ novel Caramelo.
I first read Cisneros as a freshman in high school and have been eager to read more of her work ever since. Caramelo–like all of the books I’ve read thusfar since relaunching my blog–was picked up some time ago, but only read recently, and I loved it.
There’s something about her vignette-like style of narrative is so relatable–reading the book is like listening to someone simply tell a story. At the same time, there are (fictional) scene recreations, so it’s not so much “And she said this and then he said that,” instead… well, instead, reading this book is almost like remembering your own stories.
You feel with the characters: you laugh, sniffle, roll your eyes. Reading this novel is like watching a home movie. But instead of the family being your own, it’s the Reyes family; and instead of it having a vaguely documentary feel, it’s almost very nostalgic. In particular is a section in part two, where the focalization and narration shifts between Celaya, the primary narrator, and her grandmother. In addition to simply telling the story of how the grandparents met, Cisneros inserts dialogue between the two narrators, and it seems so realistic, you can practically hear the characters argue over how the story “actually” went.
I would like to briefly touch on this idea of actuality as well. A theme throughout the book is storytelling itself, and with that lies (healthy or not) and stories versus histories. Now, at surface level, these ideas may seem to be all cut from the same cloth, but due to my rhetorical and semi-bilingual background, I found that I personally picked up on some nuances between them, and maybe you might too. Cisneros, through her characters explores the question of truth in stories, whether or not that was a purpose, I don’t know, but it strikes me as important given the weight that Celaya the narrator gives to them. She likes to distinguish between story versus history, almost questioning if there ever even is a “history” because we always hear different versions of it; furthermore, sometimes, it’s necessary to bend the truth for the sake of the story: “What kind of story would this be with just the facts?/The truth!/It depends on whose truth you’re talking about. The same story becomes a different story depending on who is telling it.” (Cisneros, 156)
I love self-reflection, especially in literature, and so rarely do I see it. It’s a line (or a few) like those above that really make a person think about a story and its lesson, and I think that’s beautiful.
Also beautiful is the way that Cisneros addresses the experiences of adolescence, of the experience of being in a brown body in a predominantly white world. She doesn’t have to constantly remind the reader of the fact that Celaya is a young, Mexican-American girl by out-rightly saying so. Instead, she allows the characters to be themselves, to Spanglish, to have crushes and questions. All around, it’s an extremely well written story that explores so many themes, I think almost anyone would enjoy it!