Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, The tie-in: A Novel (P.S.)
by Oscar Hijuelos
Paperback- N/A

It's 1949, the era of the mambo, and two young Cuban musicians make their way from Havana to New York. The Castillo brothers, workers by ...

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  "We LOVED this book" by FTessa (see profile) 12/06/10

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.


**** POSSIBLE SPOILER IN NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS ****


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.


****** SPOILER OVER *********


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 our hearts aching for Cesar and Nestor.

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