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The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar…

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989)

by Oscar Hijuelos

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Mambo Kings (1)

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English (21)  Spanish (3)  All languages (24)
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Pulitzer Prize Winner ( )
  atufft | Jul 4, 2019 |
Very cool book about Cuban immigrants in NY who play music. Atmospheric, fun.
  JoshSapan | May 29, 2019 |
Oscar Hijuelos won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. It is a is a wonderful period piece of the early 1950's, where night clubs had dance contests, men wore zoot suits, and women hoped that all the lace and garter belts and perfume would help them find the man to take care of them. "Everything was different back when; 125th Street was jumping with clubs, there was less violence, there were fewer beggars; more mutual respect between people,”
In 1949 Cesar and his younger brother leave Cuba and hit New York City to play their music and try to make it big like Tino Fuentes and their role model Desi Arnez. When in fact Desi happens to hear them play one night , he invites them to his house and to appear on his show. This helps propel the Mambo Kings to some degree of fame and the rerun of the appearance, when Cesar is 62 is the start of the narrative.
"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 like 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."
Hijuelos' portraits of the brothers are wonderfully drawn. Cesar Castillo, the guitar strumming womanizer whose voice and gregarious personality help the band become a big hit, and Nester, the trumpet playing tortured artist who writes 22 versions of the song Maria of my Soul. He is haunted by a lost love, even though he meets and marries Delores. "Beautiful María of My Soul.” A song about love so far away it hurts; a song about lost pleasures, a song about youth, a song about love so elusive a man can never know where he stands; a song about wanting a woman so much death does not frighten you, a song about wanting that woman even when she has abandoned you."
Their story is told in reflection as the older, overweight Cesar sits in his hotel room reminiscing about the good old days and the many women he has loved. I recommend going to YouTube and listening to the haunting Beautiful Maria of my Soul, letting that melody be the background as you embrace the adventures of these two very different brothers. Though I would caution that the lovemaking tales of Cesar are not for the easily offended, the writing does remind me of that of Junot Diaz who I am sure would acknowledge Hijuelos as a muse. After all Diaz did name his favorite character Oscar. ( )
  novelcommentary | Nov 16, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vote dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Cesar Castillo, the Mambo King himself, is an old man, and is remembering his life (and loves) in Cuba and New York as he approaches death. In the middle of the book is a quote that perfectly describes Cesar’s life: “Me siento contento cuando sufro,” he sang one day, “I feel happy when I’m suffering.”

Cesar and his younger brother Nestor arrive in New York full of ambition and desire to be musicians. They are talented and willing to work hard, and with some luck, put together an orchestra (The Mambo Kings), riding the popularity of the mambo craze of the late 1940s. They even get a guest appearance on “I Love Lucy” after Desi Arnaz catches their nightclub act one evening. The appearance gives them a measure of celebrity and helps them to sell several records. But true fame is just beyond their reach.

Nestor is an incredibly talented trumpet player and songwriter, but he suffers from unrequited love for the woman who left him when he still lived in Cuba. He marries Delores and starts a family, but still pines for the “Beautiful Maria of My Soul” of whom he sings. His deep melancholy ends only when the car he is driving skids off the road in a snowstorm, killing him.

Cesar has always been the driving force for the Mambo Kings – a handsome, suave, baritone who charms the audience and spreads his favors among the many women he “loves.” He’s generous to a fault, freely bestowing gifts and money on those he befriends, as well as supporting his family members still in Cuba. But after Nestor dies, he simply cannot continue to be the leader he once was. He descends into a depression that begins slowly to eat at him, fueled by drinking and excess.

It is a melancholy story, but lyrically told and impassioned. Cesar’s reflections on his life give us a moving portrait of the man, his community and the times. Hijuelos writing is evocative and moving; the book leaves my heart aching for Cesar and Nestor. ( )
1 vote BookConcierge | Jan 24, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
You finish feeling as Cesar's first music teacher in Cuba told him audiences should feel when a song ends -ready to throw up your arms and cry, ''Que bueno es!'' Mr. Hijuelos is writing music of the heart, not the heart of flesh and blood that stops beating, ''but this other heart filled with light and music . . . a world of pure affection, before torment, before loss, before awareness.''

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Oscar Hijuelosprimary authorall editionscalculated
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was a Saturday afternoon on La Salle Street, years and years ago when I was a little kid, and around three o'clock Mrs Shannon, the heavy Irish woman in her perpetually soup-stained dress, open her back window and shouted out into the courtyard "Hey, Cesar, yoo-hoo, I think you're on television, I swear it's you!"
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060973277, Paperback)

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. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:21 -0400)

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Cesar and Nestor Castillo move to New York from Cuba in 1949 to form a mambo band, and eventually play on I Love Lucy.

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