Monday, February 8, 2010

Entry 1.1: "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love" by Oscar Hijuelos (1990)

The first book I'm going to tackle along my journey is The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, by Oscar Hijuelos. It won the Prize in 1990 and was later adapted into a movie and Broadway play, called The Mambo Kings.

I can't really point to any particular reason I've decided to start with this novel, other than my fascination with 1950's culture. We all point to this era and say, "Oh, simpler times..." But, in reality, the 50's and 60's weren't entirely different from the fear-driven culture we currently live in. Just as we fear terrorists and nuclear annihilation, people from just a few generations before us were fearing Communists and nuclear annihilation. We like to think that, with programming like Leave It to Beaver and The Howdy Doody Show, that the 50's were a purer time, with less filth and perversion than we find in modern culture, but I'm not sure that's entirely true.

Here's a quick description of the book, as found an
Inspired by their heroes Xavier Cugat and Desi Arnaz, brothers Cesar and Nestor Castillo come to New York City from Cuba in 1949 with designs on becoming mambo stars. Eventually they do--performing with Arnaz on "I Love Lucy" in 1955 and recording 78s with their own band, the Mambo Kings. In his second novel, Hijuelos traces the lives of the flashy, guitar-strumming Cesar and the timid, lovelorn Nestor as they cruise the East Coast club circuit in a flamingo-pink bus. Enriching the story are the brothers' friends and family members--all driven by their own private dreams.

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