Entertainment Weekly

Stay Connected


Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content



Posted on

WHEN I WAS PUERTO RICAN Esmeralda Santiago (Addison-Wesley, $20) Esmeralda Santiago’s spicy, grim, funny memoirs present one girl’s Puerto Rico. These small, unadorned stories sketch the white dress she wore to close a dead baby’s eyes and how she learned to sing ”America the Beautiful” in English. (The teacher wrote ”for spacious skies” phonetically: ”4 espe chosk Ay!”) Santiago’s refusal to romanticize is refreshing, but it also means she doesn’t / worry about explaining all of Puerto Rico. When she says the sky was so dark she lit quinques, readers must either flip to the glossary or simply guess that quinques are kerosene lamps. The book leaves her in America just as she begins to escape the tenements, heading toward Harvard and her own film company. Puerto Rico is part of America, but Santiago illuminates the brilliantly hued chasm between them. B+