Or Pure Cuento : A Novel

Book - 2002
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Random House, Inc.
1. From the novel's opening epigraph–'Tell me a story, even it it's a lie.' –to its end, the relationship between truth, lies, history, and storytelling is an important theme. Posits Celaya, 'Did I dream it or did someone tell me the story? I can't remember where the truth ends and the talk begins.' (p. 17) And while she is assuring us, 'I wish I could tell you about this episode in my family's history, but nobody talks about it, and I refuse to invent what I don't know' (p. 136), she also acknowledges, 'The same story becomes a different story depending on who is telling it' (p. 159). For example, clearly the Awful Grandmother is sugarcoating the truth about her marriage to Narciso (p. 174). What other aspects of the novel are evidently 'untruthful'? Is the reader to believe that Caramelo is just a 'different kind of lie' (p. 250)? 2. Celaya says, 'I'm not ashamed of my past. It's the story of my life I'm sorry about.' (p. 410). What's the difference? 3. The narrative transitions from one storyteller's point of view, or voice, to another's in different parts of the story. For example, in Chapter 22, Celaya as the story-teller engages in a dialogue with the Awful Grandmother about the way the grandmother's story is being told (pp. 99—126). Then, in Chapter 29, Narciso begins to tell his own story of when he lived in Chicago (p. 139). And later, in Chapters 34—45, the dialogue between Celaya and the Awful Grandmother returns. Celaya seems to find her own voice and point of view in Chapter 58. What does the author achieve by shifting the viewpoint from character to character? How does the tone change to reflect the voices of a poor Mexican orphan, a young officer in the Mexican army, an American teenage girl, and others? How does this narrative device affect the reader's ability to sympathize or empathize with the characters? 4. Often elements of one person's life are echoed later in the story, in either the same character's life or in another character’s. For example, Cisneros uses the same sentence ('And it was good and joyous and blessed') to describe Grandmother's first sexual encounter with Narciso (p. 157) and later her death (p. 355). And the argument between Mother and Celaya (p. 371) echoes the earlier argument between Aunty Light-Skin and the Awful Grandmother (p. 268). Where are there other examples of this repetition within the novel? What themes does this structural repetition help convey? 5. The family history that forms the central story line of Caramelo is structured in part chronologically and in part by the relationships formed by different family members. As our narrator informs us: 'Because a life contains a multitude of stories and not a single strand explains precisely the who of who one is, we have to examine the complicated loops that allowed Regina to become la Se–ora Reyes' (p. 119). Does this nonlinear plot structure support the assertion that family and history are without beginning, middle, or end, but are, rather, a 'pattern' (p. 411)? 6. How does the historical chronology at the end of the novel edify the Reyes family events that take place within the body of the narrative–and vice versa? In other words, since the reader probably read the story before the chronology, how do the fictional family events illuminate the factual chronology of United States and Mexican history? Is Caramelo like or different from other historical fictions, such as Alex Haley's Roots, with which the reader might be familiar? 7. 'We are all born with our destiny. But sometimes we have to help our destiny a little' (p. 109) is a theme emphasized throughout the novel. For example, Viva tells Celaya: 'I believe in destiny as much as you do, but sometimes you've gotta help your destiny along' (p. 353). What exactly is the nature or power of the 'destiny' that the characters seem to revere? Who or what is really in control of the lives and histories portrayed? How is destiny different for Celaya, her grandmother, her parents, and her friend Viva? Celaya says of Ernesto: 'He was my destiny, but not my destination' (p. 411). What is the difference? 8. How does the oft-repeated phrase '[j]ust enough, but not too much' (e.g., p. 98) describe the kind of person the Awful Grandmother is? What aspects, if any, of the Awful Grandmother's life story parallel Celaya's life story? Are the Awful Grandmother and Celaya alike in character, and if so, in what ways? How does Celaya, who upon her grandmother's death 'can't think of anything to say for my grandmother who is simply my father's mother and nothing to me' (p. 357), ultimately come to feel that she's 'turned into her. And [can] see inside her heart' (p. 439)? What does the Awful Grandmother teach Celaya about herself? 9. Celaya writes, 'On Sunday mornings other families go to church. We go to Maxwell Street' (p. 301). Does she relate this cynically or humorously, or both? What religious beliefs does Celaya hold? How is her faith or religion different from Zoila's, who is portrayed as having no faith at all (Chapter 61), or from the faith or religion of the Awful Grandmother (see, for example, p. 196)? 10. What is the role played in the novel by the various Mexican or Mexican-American figures of popular culture who have encounters with members of the Reyes family? How does Cisneros use these characters to convey both the individuality as well as the universality of the Mexican-American immigrant experience? 11. The characters in Caramelo make frequent observations about Mexicans. For example, the Little Grandfather claims that being Mexican means loving as intensely as hating (p. 56; and p. 282), Zoila asserts that 'all people from Mexico City are liars' (p. 360), and Celaya comments that Mexicans 'leave much unsaid' (p. 442). With what tone do the characters deliver these types of generalizations, and how are they to be interpreted? Why might these characters portray their native countrymen in this way? Do people of other cultures make similarly deprecating comments, and what purpose might making such comments serve for such people? 12. . How does the Reyes family view the United States as compared to Mexico? How are the two countries portrayed in Caramelo on both political and social levels? Celaya observes that '[e]veryone in Chicago lived with an idea of being superior to someone else, and they did not, if they could help it, live on the same block without of lot of readjustments, of exceptions made for the people they know by name instead of as 'those so-and so's' ' (p. 297). Is this different or similar to how people from different classes or ethnicities (such as the Indians) in Mexico City treat or view each other? 13. The Reyes family members move fluidly throughout the book between Mexico and the United States. Does the ease of such movement diminish for each generation? How does the immigration of Inocencio and his siblings and first cousins reflect immigration between the countries in the middle part of the twentieth century, and how has immigration to the United States from Mexico changed today? How do the changes in immigration reflect the changes in the relationship between the countries? How does Caramelo reflect the immigrant experience generally for the middle part of the twentieth century, and how have changes within the United States both socially and politically affected the contemporary immigrant experience? 14. For the Reyes family members who immigrate to the United States, which elements of Mexico are preserved in America and which are lost in the process of assimilation? Is it necessary for an immigrant to lose something of his or her original culture in order to assimilate into a new culture and, once assimilated, are the old ways lost for good? Does being
Sandra Cisneros, the award-winning author of the highly acclaimed The House on Mango Street and several other esteemed works, has produced a stunning new novel, Caramelo. This long-anticipated novel is an all-embracing epic of family history, Mexican history, the Mexican-American immigrant experience, and a young Mexican-American woman's road to adulthood. We hope the following questions, discussion topics, and author biography enhance your group's reading of this captivating and masterful literary work. Born the seventh child and only daughter to Zoila and Inocencio Reyes, Celaya Reyes spent her childhood traveling back and forth between her family's home in Chicago to her father's birth home in Mexico City, Mexico. Celaya's intimidating paternal grandmother, adored and revered by Celaya's father, dominates these visits, and Celaya dubs her the Awful Grandmother. Celaya's story begins one summer in Mexico when she was just a little girl, but soon her girlhood experiences segue back in time–to before Celaya was born–to her grandparents' history. Celaya traces the Awful Grandmother's lonely and unhappy childhood in a Mexico ravaged by the Mexican revolution of 1911, her meeting and ultimate union with Celaya's grandfather, Narciso Reyes (the Little Grandfather), and the birth of their first and favorite son, Celaya's father, Inocencio. Inocencio Reyes moves to the United States as a young man, and soon meets Zoila, a Mexican-American woman, with her own colorful mixed-Mexican parentage. Celaya develops the portrait of her parents' love-based, but volatile, marriage and the growth of their own Mexican-American family. After the Little Grandfather's death, the family moves the Awful Grandmother up to the United States with them, first to Chicago, then to San Antonio. Soon afterward, the Awful Grandmother dies, leaving her teenage granddaughter to struggle with her unresolved relationship with her late grandmother. Through her grandmother's history, Celaya discovers her own Mexican-American heritage, enabling her ultimately to carve out an identity of her own in the two countries she inhabits and that inhabit her–Mexico and America. As the family's self-appointed historian, or storyteller, Celaya's tale weaves Mexican social, political, and military history around intimate family secrets and the stormy and often mysterious relationships among multiple generations of family members. The marvelous, often riotous cast of characters that march through time and across the North American continent ranges from close family members to Mexican-American icons of popular culture that have random encounters with the Reyes family. (Remember Senor Wences with his painted talking hand (p. 224)?  The spirited, likeable characters, while at times mythological in their characteristics, are always intensely human in their flaws and emotions. While each character can claim equal footing in the Reyes web of family and history, each holds a role of differing significance in Celaya's personal odyssey of connecting to her roots and carving her future.

Baker & Taylor
During her family's annual car trip from Chicago to Mexico City, Lala Reyes listens to stories about her family, including her grandmother, the descendant of a renowned dynasty of shawl makers, whose magnificent striped (or caramelo) shawl has come into Lala's possession, in a multi-generational saga of a Mexican-American family. 150,000 first printing.

Blackwell North Amer
Lala Reyes' grandmother is descended from a family of renowned rebozo, or shawl, makers. The striped caramelo rebozo is the most beautiful of all, and the one that makes its way, like the family history it has come to represent, into Lala's possession. The novel opens with the Reyes' annual car trip - a caravan overflowing with children, laughter, and quarrels - from Chicago to "the other side": Mexico City. It is there, each year, that Lala hears her family's stories, separating the truth from the "healthy lies" that have ricocheted from one generation to the next. We travel from the Mexico City that was the "Paris of the New World" to the music-filled streets of Chicago at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties - and, finally, to Lala's own difficult adolescence in the not-quite-promised land of San Antonio, Texas.

& Taylor

During her family's annual car trip from Chicago to Mexico City, Lala Reyes listens to stories about her family, including her grandmother, the descendant of a renowned dynasty of shawl makers, whose magnificent striped shawl has come into Lala's possession.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2002
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780679435549
Branch Call Number: FIC Cisneros, S 2002
Characteristics: 443 pages ; 25 cm
Audience: Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.7 23.0 64625


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Nov 12, 2016

Interesting insight into Mexican American family life, but the writing is ordinary and the story is too long.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 12, 2015

When Lala and three carloads of her family caravan from Chicago to Mexico City, they step back into the robust cultural heritage she instinctively loves. Cisneros paints a remarkably detailed portrait of two evolving cultures interwoven like the unfinished striped shawl for which the novel is named.

May 04, 2012

I found this book difficult to follow after she begins writing the past history of the family. The book starts in a very engaging manner and then goes back in time. While this device is often used by authors, I found that it over complicated the story line considerably. I am sure this book speaks best to those who are bilingual as the diverging verses and words in Spanish threw me. I just could not keep up with the translations and at times, there were none.

I feel this is a niche book and that niche is very small. Too bad; I would have liked a real entry into this author's mind.

allonsy Jul 25, 2011

Reading this was like getting empandas and ginger pigs and drinking abuelita chocolate on a Sunday morning. Besides writing a wonderful mulit-generational story, Sandra Cisneros perfectly captures the feeling of what it's like to grow up Mexican-American. I have so many memories about places, foods and activities she describes- it was like going home. This is definitely a new favorite!


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