One of "The Best Memoirs of a Generation" (Oprah's Book Club): a young woman's journey from the mango groves and barrios of Puerto Rico to Brooklyn, and eventually on to Harvard
In a childhood full of tropical beauty and domestic strife, poverty and tenderness, Esmeralda Santiago learned the proper way to eat a guava, the sound of tree frogs, the taste of morcilla, and the formula for ushering a dead baby's soul to heaven. But when her mother, Mami, a force of nature, takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be eleven children, Esmeralda, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually a new identity. In the first of her three acclaimed memoirs, Esmeralda brilliantly recreates her tremendous journey from the idyllic landscape and tumultuous family life of her earliest years, to translating for her mother at the welfare office, and to high honors at Harvard.
``Our home was a giant version of the lard cans used to haul water from the public fountain. Its windows and doors were also metal, and as we stepped in, I touched the wall and burned my fingers.'' So begins this involving memoir of family life, poverty, ambition, island countryside and Brooklyn, N.Y., cityscape by the eldest of 11 Puerto Rican children. Santiago attended Harvard on a scholarship and she is now president of her own film company. She relates with humor and affection a childhood punctuated by the birth of a sibling almost every year, by the fights between her parents--both of whom she loved--over her father's refusal to marry her mother, and by the many times her mother would leave him, always to relent--until the final move to Brooklyn, where the author's grandmother lived. Shocked by the cement-ugliness and the crime-ridden Brooklyn streets, Santiago determined to get out. Although her English was poor, she was a good student who attracted the interest of her teachers. They helped her audition for the elite New York High School of Performing Arts--and she was on her way. Santiago's portraits are clear-sighted, the Puerto Rican ambience rich, and her immigrant experience is artfully and movingly told. One wishes, however, that she had been specific about the chronology of events.
A great short read
Loved Esmeralda’s profound way in which she weaves the reader through her tumultuous childhood. The way she speaks of her emotions revived many familiar experiences that she skillfully narrated (that I was never able to put into words). The story was rather anticlimactic and felt rushed towards the end. Nevertheless, a great little read.