cover image CARAMELO


Sandra Cisneros, . . Knopf, $24 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43554-9

"Uncle Fat-Face's brand-new used white Cadillac, Uncle Baby's green Impala, Father's red Chevrolet station wagon"—the parade of cars that ushers in Cisneros's first novel since The House on Mango Street (1984) is headed to Mexico City from Chicago, bearing three Mexican-American families on their yearly visit to Awful Grandmother and Little Grandfather. Celaya or "Lala," the youngest child of seven and the only daughter of Inocencio and Zoila Reyes, charts the family's movements back and forth across the border and through time in this sprawling, kaleidoscopic, Spanish-laced tale. The sensitive and observant Lala feels lost in the noisy shuffle, but she inherits the family stories from her grandmother, who comes from a clan of shawl makers and throughout her life has kept her mother's unfinished striped shawl, or caramelorebozo, containing all the heartache and joy of her family. When she, and later Lala, wear the rebozo and suck on the fringes, they are reminded of where they come from, and those who came before them. In cramped and ever-changing apartments and houses, the teenaged Lala seeks time and space for self-exploration, finally coming to an understanding of herself through the prism of her grandmother. Cisneros was also the only girl in a family of seven, and this is clearly an autobiographical work. Its testaments to cross-generational trauma and rapture grow repetitive, but Cisneros's irrepressible enthusiasm, inspired riffs on any number of subjects (tortillas, telenovelas, La-Z-Boys, Woolworth's), hilarious accounts of family gatherings and pitch-perfect bilingual dialogue make this a landmark work. Published simultaneously in a Spanish-language hardcover edition ($24, ISBN 0-375-41509-2). (Sept. 30)

Forecast:Cisneros is arguably the writer who put Mexican-American culture on the map, and the appearance of her second novel after nearly 20 years (she is also the author of two poetry collections and a short story collection, Woman Hollering Creek) will be a major literary event. A 20-city author tour and an extensive ad/promo campaign should feed the fire, and a 150,000 first printing is planned. Órale!