cover image Peel My Love Like an Onion

Peel My Love Like an Onion

Ana Castillo. Doubleday Books, $23.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-385-49676-6

Confirming her reputation as a talented writer, Castillo's (So Far from God) sardonic and seductive novel flowers at the exotic intersection of Chicago's flamenco, Gypsy and Chicano communities, where Carmen Santos, a defiant ex-flamenco dancer, struggles with the end of her career and the dissolution of a passionate love triangle. Left with a crippled leg after a childhood bout of polio, Carmen has always been defined by those around her--her parents, the school for the disabled she attended, her lovers and her public, who know her as ""La Coja"" (the cripple). It is only when she is dancing that she is sure of her identity, and as polio belatedly reasserts itself in her 40-year-old body, she feels she is losing the core of her existence. Then, like her legs, her two Gypsy lovers--Agust n, the married leader of her troupe, and Manolo, a fiery young dancer and Agust n's godson--abandon her. After 17 years as a dancer and a sensual being, Carmen is reduced to working in a sweatshop, at an airport pizza joint and as a corn-on-the-cob peddler. Most difficult of all, she is forced to move back into the family home, where her crotchety mother erodes her spirit. Dependent, stubborn, naive and heartbreakingly vulnerable, Carmen is a realistically flawed and lively survivor. In the person of her indomitable protagonist, Castillo's trademark feminist and border-crossing concerns acquire a new depth and complexity. Her writing has matured, and she keeps her own voice unobtrusive, stitching a seamless narrative. The pace here does not match the breakneck velocity of her previous works, nor does the novel strain for elaborate effects or call upon magic realism, yet its verve is unflinching. As careful an achievement as the patient peeling of an onion, this compulsively readable narrative should delight, and expand, Castillo's audience. Agent, Susan Bergholz. Author tour. (Sept.) FYI: Castillo's first and second novels, The Mixquiahuala Letters and Sapogonia, will be reissued in trade paperback by Anchor.