A sprawling family saga with a zesty Mexican-American accent from Cisneros, author of, most recently, Woman Hollering Creek (1991).
Every summer, all three Reyes brothers drive with their wives and children from Chicago to Mexico City to visit their parents. Narrator Lala begins with a particularly dreadful trip during which “the Awful Grandmother” reveals a shameful secret from her favorite son’s past to humiliate her detested daughter-in-law. These are Lala’s parents, and Lala then rolls the narrative back, goaded by a scolding second voice whose identity we learn later, to tell us how a desolate, abandoned girl named Soledad became the Awful Grandmother. Soledad comes from a family of shawl-makers, and her most significant possession is a rebozo caramelo, a silk shawl whose striped design, when she unfurls it after her husband’s death, evokes “the past . . . the days to come. All swirling together like the stripes.” Wearing it years later to her parents’ 30th anniversary, Lala brings the fringe to her lips and tastes “cooked pumpkin familiar and comforting and good, reminding me I’m connected to so many people, so many.” Cisneros’ keen eye enlivens descriptions of everything from Chicago’s famed Maxwell Street flea market to Soledad’s sun-stroked house on Destiny Street. (The author riffs playfully throughout on the double meaning of destino, as either “destiny” or “destination”; it’s hard to imagine that the simultaneous Spanish-language edition will be as stylistically original as this casually bilingual text.) Melodrama abounds, and the narrator doesn’t disdain her tale’s links to Mexico’s famed telenovelas. In one of many entertaining footnotes, vehicles for historical and biographical background as well as the author’s opinions, she insists that those TV soap operas merely “[emulat] Mexican life.” The only way to cope is with a robust sense of humor. As Lala’s friend Viva says, “You’re the author of the telenovela of your life. Comedy or tragedy? Choose.”
Readers here get both: “Life was cruel. And hilarious all at once.”