The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
(Perennial Classics, 2000, 452 pages)
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love had been on my “to read” list forever. Sometimes it just takes a quick lap at the library to remind yourself of all the books you still want to read. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 and I couldn’t put it down. The story revolves around Cesar Castillo who came to New York from Cuba in the 1940s. He came with his younger brother Nestor, a man who was more of an introvert after a tragic break up with a woman he considered the love of his life. Set in the 80s, the book is primarily Cesar reflecting back on his life as he contemplates the fact that death is quite near – he looks back to what things were like in his heyday as a musical performer with his band, The Mambo Kings; how his personal life was (he was quite the ladies’ man); and how he was forced to change with the times…
Essentially Hijuelos takes us through the life of Cesar Castillo – the character development is pretty impressive. Not to mention the fact that it makes you want to explore the history of the music/culture of New York in the 40s and 50s. My summary doesn’t really do the book justice; I really enjoyed it. I’ll be picking up Beautiful María of My Soul soon – the follow-up to this novel. Great read.