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Empress of the Splendid Season
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060928700, Paperback)The collision of Cuban dreams with sometimes harsh American realities has been Oscar Hijuelos's great theme, most notably in Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Certainly it's at the heart of his fifth novel, Empress of the Splendid Season, which chronicles the trials, tribulations, and infrequent triumphs of a Cuban American clan over the course of a half century. The protagonist, Lydia Espana, has grown up in pre-Castro Cuba, the pampered daughter of a prosperous businessman. But when she has the audacity to violate her father's small-town code of conduct--by sleeping with an itinerant musician--she pays a terrible penalty: "Her family, turning unfairly against her with a nearly Biblical wrath, had banished her, unprepared to contend with an indifferent world."
Where is Lydia banished to? New York, of course. And in this most indifferent of cities, the former "queen of the Congo line" finds herself in a less exalted role: that of a cleaning woman. This demotion she accepts with a very credible mixture of resignation and rock-ribbed realism: "The hardest part of being a cleaning woman had to do with the way people looked at her; often as if she were 'nothing.' It hurt her most when men did not notice her. The nature of the work itself, the outfit, the end-of-the-day fatigue, the messiness of that labor were not glamorous, so what could she expect." Lydia is less sanguine about her family's difficulties, from her husband Raul's near-fatal heart attack to her son's brushes with the law. Empress of the Splendid Season is in fact an ensemble piece that passes the point of view from character to character, from generation to generation. But it's Lydia's sensibility--at once stoic and sensuous--that ultimately enlivens this latest take on the American (or perhaps Cuban American) Dream. --William Davies
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:37 -0400)
In 1940s New York, a rich man's daughter from Cuba falls in love with a waiter. They marry, have children and when he falls ill and is unable to work, she becomes the sole breadwinner, working as a cleaning woman. But one day her cleaning job will bring luck. By the author of Mr. Ives' Christmas.
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