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To a great extent, Caramelo is about immigration. And immigrants, regardless of their destination or country of origin, inhabit the same hostile universe. Most, in their quest for a better life, will experience poverty, fear, uncertainty, and prejudice. Among Cisneros’ greatest strengths is her ability to communicate the immigrant’s sense of dislo cation and to capture the uniqueness of Mexican immigration. Mexico’s proximity to the United States makes it far easier to leave one’s country but also far easier to return. \(Your feet may As a long-time American resident of Mexico, my experience is similar to that of the Reyes family, but in reverse. I also know what it’s like to straddle two different worlds. Consequently, my response to Caramelo, as to life in general, is split down the middle: The Mexican in me loved this book; the American the part that reads and writes in English had her reservations. Like many native English speakers, I find that language that might work in Spanish tends to come across as maudlinor as my mother would have said, schmaltzyin English. The first part of Caramelo, in particular, is written in a little girl voice. It frequently employs such infantile expressions as “I have sleepy,” or “a sweet stinky,” and the continual usage of the double adjective”white, white,” “quickly, quickly,” “black, black” and so forth. All of these expressions are examples of direct translation from Spanish to English. I’m not sure what effect Cisneros was trying to create, but it doesn’t work. \(Peruvian writer Alfredo Bryce Echenique used similar techniques in A World for Julius. a while the line between charming, whimsical, and just plain sappy wears thin. In the case of some Latin American writers, such excesses can be blamed on the translation. But not here. Cisneros was born in Chicago and writes in English.Yet much of the book reads as though it had been conceived in Spanish and literally transFor example, “Who opens the door is a crooked branch ….” “Who opens the door,” replicates the Spanish syntax. I have no objection to such usage when it effectively communicates something that could not be communicated otherwise, but in this context, what is gained by the distortion? Or the use of “Estas deprimed” for “you’re depressed,” \(from the Spanish word or using “family of category,” a literal translation rather than the correct one, for a “classy family.” Such language tends to be artificial and distracting. Granted, when used selectively and in moderation, replicating syntax and incorporating foreign words can add another dimension.After all, much is lost in translation. But not always. Sometimes using the foreign word is just the easy way out. When questioned about her use of language \(Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World, University of Mississippi my stories the best and catch all the subtexts and all the subtleties, that even my editor can’t catch, are Chicanas.” \(And porating the Spanish, for me, allows me to create new expressions in English, to say things in English that have never been said before. And I get to do that by translating literally:’ However, I can’t help but believe that one of the reasons these expressions “have never been said before” is because they either don’t communicate meaningfully or there’s already a perfectly good English equivalent. In addition, Cisneros often fails to convey the meaning of a word or phrase in context and refuses to use a glossary: “I’m not going to make concessions to the non-Spanish speaker,” she has said. \(Shucks, if Umberto Ecco or Ezra Pound can get away with recondite allusions and scholarly Greek phrases, why shouldn’t she get away with Spanish slang, literal translait in writing in English for a previously neglected audience of Spanish speakers. However, along with the irony, I sense a deep-seated resentment againstWhat? “The Establishment” ? I can’t be sure, but in Spanish we would say that in her insistence on “not making concessions to the non-Spanish speaker” she’s being necia, that is, pigheaded. As the creator of a body of work, it’s her prerogative to write exactly as she likes, but in the end, she sabotages her writing and does herself a disservice. And yet her readers are still well served. Despite its flaws, this is a remarkable book. The author has a real knack for dialogue and for developing characters we can’t help but care about. That, combined with her ability to create a sense of place, tell a gripping story, and transmit her unique vision of life in Caramelo worth reading. Diana Anhalt is a poet and writer in Mexico City. She is the author of A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965 1/17/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21 4