Today’s meme for Book Blogger Appreciation Week is: talk about a book we wish would get more attention by book bloggers, whether it’s a forgotten classic or under marketed contemporary fiction.
I thought long and hard on this one. My first instinct was Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, which I’ve read multiple times and never grow tired of. I even used one of the stories in my Comp & Lit course when I taught in New York. But Lahiri won the Pulitzer for the book, so she’s had her time in the spotlight. Ditto on two of my other favorite books, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Pulitzer winner) and The Bluest Eye (Oprah’s Book Club; see also: many a college syllabus).
But I’m kind of glad those other books got ruled out by my own random standards, because it made me take a good look at my overstacked bookshelf to find a book I loved and hadn’t read in a while, but am familiar enough with to properly gush about. And so, my friends, may I present:
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
I didn’t think I’d be talking about this book again so soon. I spent half of 2007 getting intimately acquainted with this book. No, I wasn’t dragging my feet and procrastinating (for once). Nope. I read this book. Then I read it again. And again. And again. And took notes. And read some more. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Caramelo was one of the books I analyzed for my Master’s thesis (on images of Mexican immigrant motherhood). It was a pain in the butt.* Though I loved the book, you’ll understand why I didn’t want to look at it again for at least 10 years.
Fast forward 3.5 years: the acute pain of writing a thesis has dulled enough for me to look back fondly on that time (just don’t ask me to write another one). Anyway.
Caramelo reminds me a lot of Oscar Wao, now that I think of it. Take out all the footnotes, replace Dominican culture with Mexican culture, and replace nerdy Oscar Wao with a fiesty little girl named Celaya, and you still have an engrossing multi-generational family saga that spans two countries.**
The novel is told through Celaya’s point of view, with Awful Grandmother butting in every now and then to make sure Celaya has the story straight:
Lies, lies. Nothing but lies from beginning to end. I don’t know why I trusted you with my beautiful story. You’ve never been able to tell the truth to save your life. Never! I must have been out of my mind…
Grandmother! You’re the one who was after me to tell this story, remember? You don’t realize what a tangled mess you’ve given me. I’m doing the best I can with what little you’ve told me.
But do you have to lie?
They’re not lies, they’re healthy lies. So as to fill in the gaps. You’re going to have to trust me. It will turn out pretty in the end, I promise. Now, please be quiet…
The book is filled with humor, and Cisneros’s ability to capture Mexican culture on the page is enviable. There’s also a lot of drama involved, but Celaya is a talented narrator, and her antagonized banter with Awful Grandmother always keeps things from getting too heavy.
I’m hosting this particular giveaway for a few reasons: (1) It’s a really good book. (2) It is a perfect book for the Cinco by Mayo reading challenge. (3) Yesterday was the beginning of Latin@ Heritage Month, so what better way to offer a shout out to mi gente? (4) It’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week. ‘Nuff said.
To enter the giveaway: Leave a comment saying why you’d like to read Caramelo. One entry only please, because I’m too lazy to think of things to make you do to earn multiple entries (and too lazy to verify that you did those hypothetical things). Giveaway closes Friday, September 24 at 5:00 p.m. CT. Sorry, US residents only. One winner will be chosen through random number generator.