Sandra Cisneros’ 1984 novel The House on Mango Street (Vintage) is just 110 pages long. It doesn’t have a sweeping plot. It’s a collection of interlinking stories about a young girl, Esperanza, her family and her neighbors. It’s the little details about everyday life that have made the book the classic that it is today.
I first read Mango Street more than 15 years ago, and I distinctly remember one line from the book, from the chapter called “My Name”: “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters.”
I’ve missed Cisneros’ work. It has been 10 years since her last novel, Caramelo, was released. Last year, I read Women Hollering Creek, a collection of short stories from 1992, and just as I reread Mango Street, I remembered why Cisneros is such a beautiful writer. The conversations sound like she has been eavesdropping on your family and she makes commonplace objects sound extraordinary, almost poetic. Take this passage from the chapter “Hairs”:
“Everybody in our family has different hair. My Papa’s hair is like a broom, all up in the air. And me, my hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands. … But my mother’s hair, my mother’s hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly and pretty because she pinned it in pincurls all day, sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, holding you and you feel safe, is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell when she make room for you on her side of the bed still warm with her skin, and you sleep near her, the rain outside falling and Papa snoring.”
Or this line from “Hips”:
“One day your wake up and they are there. Ready and waiting like a new Buick with the keys in the ignition. Ready to take you where?”
Many of the stories deal with universal adolescence angst. But several of the stories – including a thread about Sally, a beautiful girl who ends up married before eighth grade – show a gritty reality that is part of Esperanza’s tough Chicago neighborhood.
Mango Street is easy to read and relate to – there’s little wonder that it’s now part of the high school literary canon. It’s the only Latino book on the PBS’ The American Novel series and NPR’s 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels.
Cisneros released a book Have You Seen Marie? last year, but it was much too brief. Here’s hoping that a new Cisneros book will be published soon.
Source: I purchased this book.