Publisher: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux
Length: 407 pages
About: Cuban muscians seek fame in US
Style: 1st person
Where: US (New York)
It's 1949. It's the era of the mambo, and two young Cuban musicians make their way up from Havana to the grand stage of New York. The Castillo brothers, workers by day, become by night stars of
the dance halls, where their orchestra plays the lush, sensuous, pulsing music that earns them the title of the Mambo Kings. This is their moment of youth--a golden time that thirty years later will
be remembered with nostalgia and deep afection. In The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love,Oscar Hijuelos has created a rich and enthralling novel about passion and loss, memory and desire.
With my heart racing, I turned on the big black-and-white television set in his living room and tried to wake him.My uncle had fallen asleep in the kitchen--having worked really late the night
before, some job in a Bronx social club, singing and playing the horn with a pickup group of musicians.He was snoring, his shirt was open, a few buttons had popped out on his belly.Between the
delicate-looking index and middle fingers of his right hand, a Chesterfield cigarette burning down to the filter, that hand still holding a half glass of rye whiskey, which he used to drink Eke crazy
because in recent years he had been suffering from bad dreams, saw apparitions, felt cursed, and, despite all the women he took to bed, found his life of bachelorhood solitary and wearisome.But I
didn't know this at the time, 1 thought he was sleeping because he had worked so hard the night before, singing and playing the trumpet for seven or eight hours. I'm talking about a wedding party in
a crowded, smoke-filled room (with boltedshut fire doors), lasting from nine at night to four, five o'clock in the morning, the band playing one-, two-hour sets. I thought he just needed the rest.
How could I have known that he would come home and, in the name of unwinding, throw back a glass of rye, then a second, and then a third, and so on, until he'd plant his elbow on the table and use it
to steady his chin, as he couldn't hold his head up otherwise.
It's primarily this readiness to locate the spiritual in the everyday which enables Hijuelos to pack such a heart-rending punch... A movie will be along soon (music by David Byrne, no less), but I
doubt if that will get far beneath the book's glittering surface. There can be no filmic equivalent for writing as good as this.
The Guardian, Jonathan Coe, 29th March 1990
Not so good:
Hijuelos keeps us reading by means of frequent, sapid dollops of sex--Cesar is a satyr--and these moments have a nice innocence and pleasure about them, but there's no conflict or drama anywhere.
As a document, then, this is utterly superb. As art (and especially in light of Hijuelos' debut), it's much, much weaker.
Kirkusreviews.com, 21st August 1989
About the author
Born 24th August 1951 in New York City, in Morningside Heights, Manhattan, to Cuban immigrant parents, Pascual and Magdalena (Torrens) Hijuelos, both from Holguín, Cuba. As a young child, he
suffered from acute nephritis after a vacation trip to Cuba with his mother and brother, and was in St. Luke's Convalescent Hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut for almost a year and eventually
He attended the Corpus Christi School in Morningside Heights, public schools, and later attended Bronx Community College, Lehman College, and Manhattan Community College before matriculating into
and studying writing at the City College of New York (B.A., 1975; M.A. in Creative Writing, 1976) under Donald Barthelme, Susan Sontag, William S. Burroughs, Frederic Tuten, and others. Barthelme
became his mentor and friend.
In 2000, Hijuelos received the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature.
He has taught at Hofstra University and has been affiliated with Duke University, where he is a member of the faculty of the Department of English.