September 17, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Peel My Love Like an Onion

Current Status
In Season
Ana Castillo
We gave it a B+

”Flamenco is about how women love and are loved,” says Carmen la Coja, who narrates this lyrical novel. Crippled in one leg as a child by polio, Carmen grows up in a Chicago barrio; in a school for the handicapped she learns flamenco and, against all odds, decides to make it her career. She even joins a dance troupe run by a gypsy, Agustin, who becomes her lover. Although Agustin has a wife back in Spain, Carmen remains with him for more than a decade — until she meets his godson Manolo. The plot teeters on the brink of soap opera but never falls over the edge, thanks to the rigorously exact rhythms of Castillo’s prose, which is as graceful and hypnotic as flamenco, though not as steamy. B+

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