Café Dulcet by Chiquis Barrón
Story: Through the metaphorical juxtaposition of two lives (Nena's, the main character, and that of the coffee bean), Café Dulcet is an insightful story that delves into those aspects of life which shape people's existence and give them their flavor and purpose. From cultivation through adulthood, including those defining moments that test inherent natures and strengths, the story follows a closely-knit series of events to create an enchanting, modern drama. Set in the colorful backdrop of the Arizona-Mexico border, with a diverse array of characters complementing Nena's strong yet quirky personality (Doña Pilar, the exotic, local café owner; Ramona, a tall, curvaceous, dark beauty; Alex, the self-serving yet irresistibly handsome, local politician du jour; and Lalo, Alex's hippyish yet beguiling younger brother), Café Dulcet is a reminder that no matter how foreign people's lives may seem (their language, experiences, culture and place in the world), there is always a point of convergence.
Reviewed by: Sandra L.
Rating: 4 stars
“A coffee bean can be gorgeous to look at…so shiny and even that it almost looks artificial, but even the most impressive of coffee beans can taste like shit.” (pg. 1) I must admit that I was intrigued by this line, which was full of character and truth.
It all begins with a detailed history of Doña Pilar and how coffee became a grand part of her life, then it goes on to describe, in scrupulous detail, the process of how the coffee is made.
Recited in the viewpoint of Ximena (AKA Nena,) the story mainly depicted the growing years of a bright girl (Nena) battling curious barriers across the backdrop of the social and political developments of America. She goes on to explain her deep fascination with observing people—their behaviors, gestures, habits, language, and sounds—which led her to a degree in psychology and a PhD, but nothing can compare to the sweet revelation of Doña Pilar’s coffee.
Throughout the book, our heroine takes us on a harrowing back-and-forth journey of her life. In one chapter, she is in her 30’s cutting in line for a bad cup of coffee; and in another, she is a pre-teen hiding in the back of the closet looking up bad words in the dictionary. Most of her memories, of course, revolved around Doña Pilar and her café, a place where she met and interacted with a variety of friends, family, neighbors, and local strangers, but then she would immediately bring us back to the present to her adult years. I must admit that the constant back-and-forth notion was a bit puzzling.
However, in the midst of all the “time traveling,” I couldn’t help but find Nena to be a lovable and relatable character—focused and ambitious, yet clumsy and naïve. I absolutely concurred with her feeling about the telenovela culture being “a trait that…made us complete misfits and terribly boring conversational partners” (pg. 34)
The biggest wonder concerned Alex, her childhood friend and biggest crush. What kept those two waiting? What happened when Nena let her guard down? Will they ever make it work?
Nena describes both the excitements and apprehensions of her relationship with Alex well. She put it well when she stated that “another characteristic flavor became muted whenever I was around him.” (pg. 98) It all went back to the mantra: “To love another, you must lose yourself.”
The author shows a great talent in her writing, one cultivated by quiet beauty and strength. She portrays a charismatic tone often found between two friends chatting over a hot cup of—yep, you guessed it—coffee, while her characters are depicted in raw, vibrant colors against the pale, orange dessert of Arizona. You can’t wait to find out what happens next.