Monday, October 8, 2007

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

I truly disliked The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. One could even say I hated it. I tried to like it, diligently reading until about page 250; then I skimmed through it to the end. Don't ask me how The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990. Personally, I wouldn't recommend this novel to anyone. I need a good book after this one. This was akin to a week of torture between personal happenings and trying to read this book. Originally published in 1989, my soft cover copy was 407 pages. If you are part of the group reading all the Pulitzer Prize winners I can give you a great deal on this one. Be forewarned it reads like light porn, not that I read porn, but that's how it struck me. This may be in line for the worst read of 2007, although the writing itself is much better than the other contender.

From Amazon:
"The Mambo Kings are two brothers, Cesar and Nestor Castillo, Cuban-born musicians who emigrate to New York City in 1949. They form a band and enjoy modest success, playing dance halls, nightclubs and quince parties in New York's Latin neighborhoods. Their popularity peaks in 1956 with a guest appearance on the I Love Lucy show, playing Ricky Ricardo's Cuban cousins and performing their only hit song in a bittersweet event that both frames the novel and serves as its emblematic heart. Hijuelos's first novel, Our House in the Last World , was justly praised for its tender vignettes of emigre Cuban life; here, he tells of the triumphs and tragedies that befall two men blessed with gigantic appetites and profoundly melancholic hearts--Cesar, the elder, and the bandleader, committed to the pursuit of life's pleasures, and Nestor, he of the "dark, soulful countenance," forever plunging through a dark, Latin gloom. In a performance that deepens the canon of American ethnic literature, Hijuelos evokes, by day, a New York of crowded Harlem apartments made cheery by Cuban hospitality, and by night, a raucous club scene of stiletto heels and waxy pompadours--all set against a backdrop of a square, 1950s America that thinks worldliness means knowing the cha-cha. With an unerring ear for period idioms ("Hello you big lug") and a comic generosity that renders even Cesar's sexual bravado forgivable if not quite believable, Hijuelos has depicted a world as enchanting (yet much closer to home) as that in Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera . The lyricism of Hijuelos's language is wonderfully restrained, conveying with equal facility ribald comedy and heartfelt pathos. Despite a questionable choice of narrative conceit (Cesar recollects the novel from a seedy "Hotel Splendour" in 1980), Hijuelos's pure storytelling skills commission every incident with a life and breath of its own. Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc."

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