The Power Of Memories & Letters
Martita, I Remember You – A Story in English and Spanish by Sandra Cisneros (A Vintage Contemporaries Original, September 2021, United States of America)
Reviewed by Sally Shaw
Sandra Cisneros is a writer, poet, novelist, and essayist. Her many awards include the PEN Centre Literary Award. She is a dual citizen of the USA and Mexico.
I first read stories by Sandra Cisneros in 2018 when The House On Mango Street was recommended to me by my university tutor. I was absolutely blown away by her writing, words and emotions woven through her stories. More so by her style and ability to write vignettes that tell more than a novel. Martita, I Remember Youis a book I will return to again and again; to read as a whole or find the beautiful gems of meaning and inspiration that lie within the paragraphs.
At fifty-one pages it’s easy to read, be aware not to be fooled by this. Cisneros takes your hand and leads you along the story path but leaves it up to you, the reader to decide which way to turn. Her skill of placing a phrase, an observation or reaction that jolts the reader to notice the self, as a sentence, phrase or word reflects parts of you or your life.
Martita, I Remember You tells the story of Corina (Puffina), who as a young woman left her Mexican family in Chicago for Paris to accomplish her dream of becoming a writer. The story begins with Corina as an older woman, she is decorating her house, when she finds letters sent by friends she met in Paris Martita (Marta) and Paola. The first letter she searches for is from Martita. The letter introduces the reader to the strength of friendships. They may not have been the longest in physical time, but the passing of years and separation has harvested a kinship. This is the moment Corina finds the letter; “I have to put my scraper down, shut the torch valve, and poke around the winter closet, past House Contract and Birth Certificates and Property Tax files, searching for you in letters spilling photos; a scalloped paper napkin; postmarks from France, Argentina, Spain; tissue envelopes with striped airmail borders, the handwriting tight and curly like your hair.” These few words inform the reader of Corina’s life and a snapshot of Martita. The letter appears on the page in handwriting this has the effect that the reader sense they’re holding the letter from Martita. Following reading the letter Corina reflects on her time in Paris.
Cisneros enables the voices of Corina, Martita and Paola to be heard and their personalities to be seen. I will leave you to discover this for yourself. The middle pages take the reader to Paris and as I read Corina’s words, I felt like I was my young self, as she takes those faltering steps into adulthood and becoming her own person. The writing unveils the three young women, each have their own strengths, weaknesses, and fears. Through their friendship each learn and grew. Cisneros lets her characters share their naivety and the lessons this teaches not always heeded the first time. Corina wears her nice dress and becomes a target for unwanted attention as she walks along the street. “I’m wearing the olive-green Fiorucci dress I bought on sale. It’s the only nice dress I own. The last time I wore it, a passing motorist stopped and said something to me. His French all one blue ribbon, I didn’t know where one word ended and the next began. At first I thought he wanted directions, but when I realized he wanted me to get in the car, I ran away. I never wore the dress again until now.” Corina’s telling of her time in Paris allows the reader to observe the three women’s experiences and unique connection with each other, not fully realised at the time. The women leave Paris and go their separate ways.
The next nine pages are letters to Corina from Martita and Paola, these letters are a joy to read and I discovered the charm of Paola and her relationship with Corina and I could feel Corina reading these letters; that with each reading of Martita’s words her perception grew of how she had affected her life. The final letter from Martita is the first one read at the beginning of the story this brings a beautiful closing of a circle. The last six pages see Corina’s reply to Martita. I think that Cisneros left it to me to decide if the letter ever got posted.