(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In the first part of Caramelo, Celaya Reyes remembers a summer trip from Chicago to visit her grandparents in Mexico City in about 1962. With rich imagery and humor and from the perspective of a five-year-old, Celaya introduces her extended family and the culture of Mexico City in the mid-twentieth century.

In the second part, with the ghost of her grandmother, Soledad, watching over her shoulder and commenting, an older Celaya recounts Soledad’s life. This is a story of suffering and hardening against the epic backdrop of twentieth century Mexican history. Celaya explains how Soledad—repeatedly abandoned by parents and her husband—turned into “the Awful Grandmother,” hated and feared by Celaya and her mother because of her fierce possessiveness toward her son, Celaya’s father, Inocencio.

In the final part, Celaya, from a teenager’s perspective, recounts Soledad’s final years, after her husband’s death, when she continued to sow discord in her son’s family. She returns from death to haunt Celaya and threaten Inocencio. In a struggle over Inocencio’s hospital bed after his heart attack, Celaya and the ghost strike a bargain. If Celaya will tell Soledad’s story—as she does in the second part—Soledad will not carry her father away to be with her. Soledad wants her story told because she is suffering alone; she cannot pass on to the next life until those she has hurt can understand her and forgive her.


(The entire section is 519 words.)