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“Oscar Hijuelos is a truly gifted writer who makes a uniquely American experience and era of music come alive with a passionate honesty for which he is worthy of great credit. One deeply feels the alienation of the brothers in New York where they search for their Cuban heritage and can never get...”see full review » see other reviews »
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“I am quitting this after reading 100 pages. I'm glad I borrowed it from the public library, instead of buying it.”see full review » see other reviews »
“I am quitting this after reading 100 pages. I'm glad I borrowed it from the public library, instead of buying it.”fcescgb wrote this review Tuesday, February 5, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“The Pulitzer winner in 1949, the era of the mambo, and two young Cuban musicians make their way from Havana to New York. The Castillo brothers, workers by day, become, by night, stars of the dance halls, where their orchestra plays the sensuous, pulsing music that earns them the title of the Mambo Kings. Unrequited love, papssion, emptiness”Laurel B Deloria wrote this review Friday, December 28, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Much better than the movie (which was good). A book that was worthy of the Pulitzer prize that it won.
The book tells the story of two cuban immigrant brothers (Cesar and Nestor Castillo) through the memories of Cesar in the last cloudy days of his life as he determines to drink himself to death at age 62. The brothers come to the US and pursue the music scene in NY the '40s and '50s. Cesar, the older brother, and an agressive hot latin character, puts together and fronts and runs their band (the Mambo Kings) that plays clubs around the area. The band has moderate success, with their biggest hit being "Beautiful Maria of My Soul", a song written by Nestor, the younger brother. A highlight for the brothers was playing the song on the I Love Lucy television show after Desi Arnaz invited them when they met in a club in NY. The exposure initially puts the band in play nationally. But things turn when Nestor, the pensive and sometimes melancholy younger brother dies when he crashes their car. The band winds down and falls apart, and other music ventures don't completely succeed for Cesar.
The book contrasts the temperaments of Cesar, a high energy proud womanizer, and Nestor, a more temperamental, sentimental songwriter. They both love music and the musicians life. Nestor marries and has a son, but continues to pine for Maria, a girl he knew back in Cuba, and the songs he writes are mostly for her. Obvious issues. Cesar chases every skirt that he comes into contact with, and at times it seems that the book focuses too much on his social and sexual activities. But it all works as it provides the background and perspective for the issues it raises in Cesar's later life as his age and drinking catches up with him, and his ability to attract desirable women fades. In all, a really good book.”
“Interesting at times, but was a tedious read for the most part. Not sure why this was selected as the Pulitzer winner.”Marathon Man wrote this review Wednesday, April 18, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“This is the story of a man who had nothing going for him except musical talent. Anyone who likes stories of despair and hopelessness will revel in this one. It's wrapped around a promising story of Latin music in the 50's, of which I have much interest, but it was such a mess that I almost gave up finishing it. I wish I had.
Call me cynical but just because someone is of Latin heritage and lives in NYC doesn't mean that a book written in non-sensical rambling and pornographic fashion means it's an award winner.”
“While there is some comedic relief in this book, it is saturated with tragedy. True to life perhaps in many aspects, it is also riddled with a compelling sensuousness. Beginning and ending with brief first-person background, it tells the history of two Cuban brothers who try to forge musical lives for themselves in New York City. Along the way they encounter famous people (including Desi Arnaz) and struggle to provide for their families. Music redeems them and helps them transcend the mundane.”dbsovereign wrote this review Monday, November 28, 2011. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“My parents came in the early 80's, but I have grandparents that came to New York in the late 40's, when most of this novel takes place. The New York of my parents is one of chaos; dirty streets, dirty subways, clean car windows(squeegee men before every bridge). The New York of the 40's are a different story. Hijuelos describes the subways with 1-cent gum and 5-cent candy bar machines on every platform (working at the Transit Museum for a spell, I can attest that these things exist). With a nostalgia that hurts, Cesar narrates the story of his life, from his childhood in Oriente, Cuba to his last days, the city my parents came to when they decided their country had given them all they could get.
Well, what's in between those times? Mambo, dance halls, women, sex (lots of sex passages in this book, if it matters), musicians and sadness. That life never turns out the way you want it to, even though it starts out in such a promising fashion. Meeting Desi Arnaz, starring in I love Lucy bring the Castillo brothers minor fame. From this prism, Cesar gauges his life.
One of the best books I've ever read. ”
“ Enjoyed the story, especially all the musicians and music that was talked about in the story. It seemed to capture the rhythm of the times.”fab K.M wrote this review Thursday, June 30, 2011. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Oscar Hijuelos is a truly gifted writer who makes a uniquely American experience and era of music come alive with a passionate honesty for which he is worthy of great credit. One deeply feels the alienation of the brothers in New York where they search for their Cuban heritage and can never get beyond their longing for their lost country. There is an emptiness, a painful longing that can never be filled except by alcohol, music and love. They are trapped within the machismo prevalent in their heyday and seem to find a hollow solace there -- never quite connecting with a fulfilling or enduring love. The many relationships are exciting but temporary and those that are deep do not last. Yet in them the elder Castillo finds that life is lived intensely, even if the intensity is fleeting. His descriptions of his love for his mother are moving and his sacrifices to learn and pursue his art command respect.They are sacrifices that every devoted artist recognizes. Hijuelos definitely understands the music crafted, like much great art, out of agony of the spirit. The reader is transported to another era with a realism that rings true. Their suffering is the origin of their consciousness and the essence of their best music.The music is omniscient from the clanking on the pipes in claves to the boleros that define their experience. The encounters with Desi Arnaz were a nice creative touch, a rounding out of their experience, and a foil for their own poverty amid the American Dream. Hijuelos seems to have brought some of his own cultural experience in New York into play with great conviction and depth. The writing style is truly innovative and the honesty in the writing is genuinely compelling.”David B. Lentz wrote this review Thursday, May 26, 2011. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No