Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cicernos

This book, set in Chicago, portrays a family and a neighborhood of recent immigrants from Mexico. It is told in small vignettes from the point of view of Esperanza, a young girl who has moved to the House on Mango Street from a series of terrible apartments. Through the vignettes, which almost read like little poems, we learn of the people who make up her family and her neighborhood, who become a sort of extended family. The struggles with fitting in, being poor, and making a place for yourself in a new world are all laced within the pages of this short novel. It could really be set in any time, because the problems these immigrants face are the same as they were 50 years ago, only now there is even more scarcity of resources, particularly in Chicago. But the basic human aspiration to succeed is the strongest theme in the book, which had me hoping that Esperanza would not let the depression of her current status get her down- that she would rise above it. 

Living in Chicago makes this book even more real to me, because there are tons of neighborhoods just like Mango street all around me. There is that strange mingling of fear and hope, and a desire to provide for your family at all cost. Hispanic immigrants are very quickly becoming the major ethnicity in this town, as more and more flock to the city for the chance of a better life. But with that comes the enormous contingent of hate, crime, and depression which leads to violence. These also appear in this book, from Esperanza's perspective. There is no balance here. It's a sad reality, but reality it is.

About the Author: Sandra Cicernos' work experiments with literary forms and investigates emerging subject positions, which Cisneros herself attributes to growing up in a context of cultural hybridity and economic inequality that endowed her with unique stories to tell. She is the recipient of numerous awards including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and is regarded as a key figure in Chicana literature.

Cisneros's early life provided many experiences she would later draw on as a writer: she grew up as the only daughter in a family of six brothers, which often made her feel isolated, and the constant migration of her family between Mexico and the USA instilled in her the sense of "always straddling two countries... but not belonging to either culture." Cisneros's work deals with the formation of Chicana identity, exploring the challenges of being caught between Mexican and Anglo-American cultures, facing the misogynist attitudes present in both these cultures, and experiencing poverty. For her insightful social critique and powerful prose style, Cisneros has achieved recognition far beyond Chicano and Latino communities, to the extent that The House on Mango Street has been translated worldwide and is taught in American classrooms as a coming-of-age novel.

Cisneros has held a variety of professional positions, working as a teacher, a counselor, a college recruiter, a poet-in-the-schools, and an arts administrator, and has maintained a strong commitment to community and literary causes. In 1998 she established the Macondo Foundation, which provides socially conscious workshops for writers, and in 2000 she founded the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation, which awards talented writers connected to Texas. Cisneros currently resides in San Antonio, Texas.

Other Books to Consider: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.


Chelle said...

Thanks for the thoughtful review. This is one of my favorite books! I love the vignettes and the lyrical quality of the prose. For such a small book it has a powerful story to tell.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I just came across your blog today and think it looks great. I see a similarity and some of what we enjoy reading. I'll be visiting again.

(i enjoyed this book a lot when I read it).