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1 Burnside Literature- A to Z

Caramelo

by

Caramelo Cover

ISBN13: 9781400041503
ISBN10: 1400041503
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. From the novels opening epigraph—“Tell me a story, even it its 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 cant remember where the truth ends and the talk begins” [p. 20]. And while she is assuring us, “I wish I could tell you about this episode in my familys history, but nobody talks about it, and I refuse to invent what I dont know” [p. 134], she also acknowledges, “The same story becomes a different story depending on who is telling it” [p. 156]. For example, clearly the Awful Grandmother is sugarcoating the truth about her marriage to Narciso [p. 171]. What other aspects of the novel are evidently “untruthful”? Is the reader to believe that Caramelo is just a “different kind of lie” [p. 246]?

2. Celaya says, “Im not ashamed of my past. Its the story of my life Im sorry about” [p. 399]. Whats the difference?

3. The narrative transitions from one storytellers point of view, or voice, to anothers in different parts of the story. For example, in Chapter 22, Celaya as the storyteller engages in a dialogue with the Awful Grandmother about the way the grandmothers story is being told [pp. 91-123]. Then, in Chapter 29, Narciso begins to tell his own story of when he lived in Chicago [p. 137]. And later, in Chapters 37-45, the dialogue between Celaya and the Awful Grandmother returns. Celaya seems to find her own voice and point of view in Chapter 59. 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 readers ability to sympathize or empathize with the characters?

4. Often elements of one persons life are echoed later in the story, in either the same characters life or in another characters. For example, Cisneros uses the same sentence—“And it was good and joyous and blessed”—to describe Grandmothers first sexual encounter with Narciso [p. 154] and later her death [p. 348]. And the argument between Mother and Celaya [p. 359] echoes the earlier argument between Aunty Light-Skin and the Awful Grandmother [p. 262]. 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 Señora Reyes” [p. 115]. Does this nonlinear plot structure support the assertion that family and history are without beginning, middle, or end, but are, rather, a “pattern” [p. 399]?

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 Haleys Roots, with which the reader might be familiar?

7. The theme expressed in the following statement is reemphasized throughout the novel: “We are all born with our destiny. But sometimes we have to help our destiny a little” [p. 106]. For example, Viva tells Celaya: “I believe in destiny as much as you do, but sometimes youve gotta help your destiny along” [p. 345]. 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. 399]. What is the difference?

8. How does the oft-repeated phrase “just enough, but not too much” [e.g., p. 29] describe the kind of person the Awful Grandmother is? What aspects, if any, of the Awful Grandmothers life story parallel Celayas life story? Are the Awful Grandmother and Celaya alike in character, and if so, in what ways? How does Celaya, who upon her grandmothers death “cant think of anything to say for my grandmother who is simply my fathers mother and nothing to me” [p. 350], ultimately come to feel that shes “turned into her. And [can] see inside her heart” [p. 424]? 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. 294]. Does she relate this cynically or humorously, or both? What religious beliefs does Celaya hold? How is her faith or religion different from Zoilas, who is portrayed as having no faith at all [Chapter 62], or from the faith or religion of the Awful Grandmother [see, for example, p. 191]?

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, Zoila asserts that “all people from Mexico City are liars” [p. 353], and Celaya comments “Were so Mexican. So much left unsaid” [p. 428]. 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 sos” [p. 289-290]. 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 “American” mean something different for the first generation of immigrants such as Inocencio than for the American-born Zoila or their daughter, the American-born Celaya? How does Celaya reconcile her Mexican legacy with her American future, and does this reconciliation give meaning to the term “Mexican-American”? How do shifting external border relations between Mexico and the United States reflect or affect the characters internal conflicts between their Mexican and American identities?

15. Aunty Light-Skin proclaims: “Because thats how los gringos are, they dont have any morals. They all have dinner with each others exes like it was nothing. ‘Thats because were civilized, a turista once explained to me. What a barbarity! Civilized? You call that civilized? Like dogs. Worse than dogs. If I caught my ex with his ‘other Id stab them both with a kitchen fork. I would!” [p. 273]. What system of morality do the Reyes abide by? Does this code of morality reflect a more Mexican, more American, or a Mexican-American way of thinking? What cultural differences between Mexicans and Americans does Aunty Light-Skins proclamation illustrate?

16. “There is nothing Mexican men revere more than their mamas; they are the most devoted of sons perhaps because their mamas are the most devoted of mamas...when it comes to their boys” [p. 128]. What explains the strength of the relationship between Inocencio and the Awful Grandmother? Is the relationship between Zoila and Toto equally strong? Why or why not? How can mothers and daughters, such as Aunty Light-Skin and the Awful Grandmother, or Celaya and Zoila, successfully relate to each other in the face of such strong mother-son relationships? Is the favoritism these mothers show for their sons unique to Mexican culture? How does the bond between a son and his mother compare to the relationship between Celaya and Inocencio?

17. How does the fact of Candelarias parentage affect each of the family members differently—Zoila, the grandmother, Celaya? Does the information that Candelarias father is Inocencio change relationships between or among any of the Reyes family members?

18. Celaya says, “Life was cruel. And hilarious all at once” [p. 30]. And when things seem to have reached a low point in her life, she proclaims, “Celaya. Im still myself. Still Celaya. Still alive. Sentenced to my life for however long God feels like laughing” [p. 357]. What attitude does Celaya have toward her own life? What keeps her going?

19. Inocencio tells Celaya: “Always remember, Lala, the family comes first—la familia” [p. 360]. Does her needy call home to Papa after her episode with Ernesto in Mexico City prove her father right [p. 390]? How does Celaya reconcile her fathers statement about family with her own vision of her future as an independent woman?

20. The first time the word “caramelo” appears in the book is when it is used to describe Candelarias skin tone [p. 34]. The second time is to name the color of the Awful Grandmothers uncompleted rebozo [p. 58]. How are the two events connected? Why might Cisneros have chosen Caramelo for the title? What does the caramelo rebozo mean to Celaya the storyteller? To Celaya the Reyes family member? [See pp. 426-430.]

21. Cisneros employs elaborate and vivid food metaphors, such as “Regina was like the papaya slices she sold with lemon and a dash of chile; you could not help but want to take a little taste” [p. 117] and “Have you ever been that sad? Like a donut dunked in coffee” [p. 274]. Is taste the strongest sense her metaphors invoke? How does she also invoke the senses of smell, sight, and sound? What does Cisneros achieve stylistically or thematically by invoking these senses?

22. In Chapter 66 (“Nobody but Us Chickens”) the Grandmother gets sick—then, before Celaya reports to the reader her grandmothers fate, she relates in Chapter 67 (“The Vogue”) how she and Viva got caught shoplifting. Why might Cisneros have juxtaposed these two chapters? Celaya also sets up family mysteries and delays solving them until much later in the novel. For example, the mystery of why Celaya is missing from the photograph on the beach is answered later. Are there other examples of such mysteries, and how does Cisneros use these mysteries to structure the plot and move it along?

23. Does Celaya betray her father by telling the story? Is Inocencio right that the family portrayed in Caramelo appears “shameless,” as he cautions Celaya [p. 430]? If not, how might one describe the family portrayed in Caramelo?

24. How does Caramelo push the stylistic boundaries of a traditional novel? Does the authors use of footnotes; different voices; repetition; Spanish language, songs, and poetry; as well as other stylistic devices alter the definitions of form and structure? How do such stylistic devices reinforce the themes of the novel?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Vanessa Espinoza, August 3, 2011 (view all comments by Vanessa Espinoza)
This book brings you back to your hometown or land. If you are Hispanic this book is a MUST READ. You read it and it reminds you of your family trips down to Mexico and all the crazy things that you see but don't remember until you read this book..
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Vanessa Espinoza, August 3, 2011 (view all comments by Vanessa Espinoza)
This book brings you back to your hometown or land. If you are Hispanic this book is a MUST READ. You read it and it reminds you of your family trips down to Mexico and all the crazy things that you see but don't remember until you read this book..
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781400041503
Author:
Cisneros, Sandra
Publisher:
Alfred A. Knopf
Author:
Random House
Location:
New York
Subject:
General
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Women
Subject:
Girls
Subject:
Mexico
Subject:
Chicago
Subject:
Grandmothers
Subject:
Grandparent and child
Subject:
Domestic fiction
Subject:
Mexican American families
Subject:
Mujeres
Subject:
Abuelas
Subject:
Familias mexicano-americanas
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Edition Description:
Today Show Book Club edition
Series Volume:
107-245
Publication Date:
March 10, 2003
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
464
Dimensions:
9.48x6.60x1.40 in. 1.66 lbs.

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Related Subjects


Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Caramelo Used Hardcover
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$5.95 In Stock
Product details 464 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9781400041503 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A family saga with a zesty Mexican-American accent....Cisneros' keen eye enlivens descriptions of everything from Chicago's famed Maxwell Street flea market to a sun-stroked house on Destiny Street. Stylistically original....[Cisneros shows that] the only way to cope is with a robust sense of humor."
"Review" by , "A lavish, richly textured meditation on family and culture."
"Review" by , "Imaginative...charming....Cisneros weaves tales from her own childhood with fabulous fiction, whipping up the story of Lala and her eccentric Mexican and Mexican-American family. Guided by Lala?s narration of her grandparents' and parents' histories, Caramelo engages in a kind of playfulness ('Tell me a story, even if it's a lie' is the quote that opens the book) that is utterly bewitching."
"Review" by , "With Caramelo, her exuberant, overstuffed novel, Cisneros undertakes storytelling on a grand scale, detailing the struggles and joys of three generations of a family, evoking a subtle panorama of cultural shifts. Her characters leap from the page in all their flawed humanity, falling in and out of love, squabbling and making up, working hard and making do."
"Review" by , "It is Cisneros' unique use of language that lifts Caramelo from the category of a very fine novel and situates it among the great literature of our time."
"Review" by , "Poet and writer Cisneros's sprawling, spirited Caramelo, her first novel since her hugely successful The House on Mango Street, revisits Chicago's Mexican-American community — this time to retrace the story of the raucous, loving family of Lala Reyes, which stretches back through some tough years in San Antonio, Texas, to its roots in Mexico City...a tumultuous and eventful history. Vibrant and big-hearted like Lala herself, Cisneros's prose captures both the personal intimacies and the larger-than-life atmosphere of the Reyes family's passionate saga."
"Review" by , "Writers tell secrets, and in so doing, reaffirm the truths of our lives, the strength of love, the marvel of endurance, and the power of generations. In Caramelo, Sandra Cisneros sings to my blood. Her words are sweet and filling, not sugar-driven but as substantial as meat on the bone. Hers is the kind of family I know well — people who love and hate with their whole souls, who struggle and make over with every generation. She has done them justice on the page; she has given them to us whole."
"Review" by , "This book is a crowded train, a never-stop round-trip train going and coming back and going again between Mexico and the USA, across the frontiers of land and time: full of voices, full of music, made from memory, making life."
"Review" by , "It's a crazy, funny and remarkable folk-saga of Mexican migrants told by a curious little girl who has the wisdom of an old grandma. Beginning on Highway 66, it's a salsified variant on the Joad family's odyssey, zigzagging from Chicago to Mexico City and back. It's all about la vida, the life of 'honorable labor.' It's a beautiful tale of all migrants caught between here and there. And it's a real lalapalooza!"
"Review" by , "Sandra Cisneros is like a bee that extracts new honey from old flowers. And Caramelo is like a Mexican candy that you suck slowly, savoring it under your tongue for hours; yet it is never sticky, never sugary nor sentimental. Cisneros possesses that most difficult ability — to allow us to imagine that which never existed."
"Synopsis" by , The celebrated author of "The House on Mango Street" delivers an extraordinary new novel, told in language of blazing originality: a multigenerational story of a Mexican-American family whose voices create a dazzling weave of humor, passion, and poignancy--the very stuff of life.
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