Saturday, July 05, 2008

37. The House on Mango Street

written and read by Sandra Cisneros

I hadn't originally intended to listen to this audiobook. One of the discs had been missing, and we had billed the last person to check it out, and she had paid in order to graduate in May. Then a couple weeks ago, my assistant pulls the missing disc out of her computer (while inserting a disc with baby pix from one of our former student workers), and when I asked her why it had been in there, she said she had been "checking it."

Alllll-right. In order to truly check the missing disc before refunding the student's money, and since I'd just finished an audiobook, I started listening to this one. The book was originally published in 1984, well after I'd graduated from high school/college/MBA, and I'd never "had" to read it as so many students do today.

This was a 10-year anniversary edition with an introduction by Cisneros. In it, she said she had originally intended to write a memoir, but by the end, it was "no longer autobiographical. It had evolved into a collective story peopled with several lives from my past and present, placed in one fictional time and neighborhood - Mango Street." She said she was "trying to write something that was a cross between fiction and poetry...a book whose stories read like fables, but with the lyricism and succinctness of poetry."

I think she succeeded. The book consists of 45 essays or short stories, none more than six pages long. Cisneros said she "wanted to tell a story made up of a series of stories that would make sense if read alone, or that could be read all together to tell one big story, each story contributing to the whole, like beads on a necklace," and that is the case.

The narrator and main character is Esperanza Cordero, who may or may not be Cisneros by her own admission. She says her intention was "to take from different parts of other people's lives and create a story like a collage. I merged characters from my twenties with characters from my teens and childhood." Cisneros reads this book with a voice that sounds like that of a little girl, and it fits the material. Some of the stories are light and funny, some sad and serious. Cisneros also said:
But best of all, writing in a younger voice allowed me to name that thing without a name, that shame of being poor, of being female, of being not quite good enough, and examine where it had come from and why, so I could exchange shame for celebration.

This definitely comes across in this book. I'm glad I listened to it.

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