Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, The tie-in: A Novel
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Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, The tie-in: A Novel

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  6,610 ratings  ·  303 reviews

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 day, become, by night, stars of the dance halls, where their orchestra plays the sensuous, pulsing music that earns them the title of the Mambo Kings. This is a golden time that thirty years later will be remembered with deep affection. I

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Paperback, 480 pages
Published July 1st 2005 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1989)
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Claire
May 06, 2007 Claire rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Apparently, the Pulitzer committee
I cannot BELIEVE this book won a Pulitzer. I bought it because of the shiny red cover with the big silver medal-looking sticker on the front (yes, that is how I judge books). The Cuban history/living in New York as a Cuban/music scene perspective was interesting, but it was overshadowed by the long, long, LONG woe-is-me sad-sack self-destructive fatalistic characters who were, for the most part, unlikable and unrelatable, and the pages and pages of sex. Not sexy sex; DH Lawrence this is not. It'...more
Terry
This book is nostalgic, exotic, erotic and narcotic. It is a beautiful book and I have returned to it several times and each time I am completely swept up emotionally by it. With mere words on a page, the author creates the melodies of the Mambo era, the smells of rural Cuban cane fields, the sweat of a dance hall, the swelter of a New York City summer. The two main characters, Cesar and Nestor love in completely different, but totally compelling, ways. For Nestor, love is an ideal, out of reach...more
Tortla
I guess there was a plot. But I think it was all a thinly veiled cover for writing about an old man's penis.

Seriously. Every page includes some reference to this horny old man's sexual escapades. It's gross. And a little depressing. Which is...provocative. I guess.

EDIT: I redacted my initial hatred-filled review. I might even consider re-reading this, from a non-sophomoric* perspective.

*I was a sophomore in high school when I first read this and hated it...
Adam
May 09, 2008 Adam rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People with more knowledge of the mambo than I possess.
Shelves: pulitzer-winners
After reading this, I couldn't help feeling that I never understood the main character, despite having gone through every significant episode of his life. I suppose it would have affected me more if I were familiar with the mambo culture; perhaps I simply don't have the rhythm this book requires.

This is my first experience with Hijuelos, and I find myself wondering whether he's always so sex-obsessed. There's nothing wrong with sex in a novel, especially if it's well-written, but there are othe...more
David Lentz
Oscar Hijuelos is a truly gifted writer who makes a uniquely American experience and era of music come alive with a passionate honesty for which he is worthy of great credit. One deeply feels the alienation of the brothers in New York where they search for their Cuban heritage and can never get beyond their longing for their lost country. There is an emptiness, a painful longing that can never be filled except by alcohol, music and love. They are trapped within the machismo prevalent in their he...more
Book Concierge
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 M...more
Marvin
I tried to like this book. Partly because I find the Latin music sub-culture of the 50s a fascinating topic and partly because I do think Hijuelos has a fine style of writing. However it is simply too repetitive and uninvolving. I guess I'm supposed to like Cesar and Nestor but I never really find out much about them except they are talented musicians (yeah, I got that part in the first ten pages) and that they are good in bed. I just expected more when someone takes the time to write a full nov...more
Shane
A once-famous Latin musician, Cesar Castillo, famous more for the number of women he bedded than for the number of songs he produced, holes up in a hotel and dredges up the 62 years of his life filled with sex, despair, rum and mambo ( there was nothing much else), while drinking himself to death. That pretty much sums up this book.

In the process however, we get vivid glimpses of life in Cuba before Castro, of Hispanic immigrants struggling to make it in New York City, of passion, of the fragmen...more
Grady Ormsby
What a terrific read! The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love is the story of two emigre brothers who move from Cuba to NYC in 1949. The story follows their struggles, their triumphs, their illusions, and their disillusions.

The characters are developed with sensitivity and pathos, real people with all the achievements, disappointments, foibles and contradictions we have become accustomed to in our own lives.

Perhaps the biggest asset of the novel is the writing itself. Hijuelos' prose is a torrent of...more
Lindsey
Loved this one! This was a fantastic read, and a great look into the golden age of the mambo orchestras. Cesar Castillo is a sympathetic character, despite his many flaws (misogyny, sexual assault, etc.), and in many ways, he seems more a product of his time than a deliberately misogynist character. He is a macho and needs to assert this until the end of his life. The tragedy of the story is known from the beginning, but the story flows and drives you on through it. It reads like a telenovela on...more
Ashley
One reviewer writes, "This book is nostalgic, exotic, erotic and narcotic. It is a beautiful book and I have returned to it several times and each time I am completely swept up emotionally by it. With mere words on a page, the author creates the melodies of the Mambo era, the smells of rural Cuban cane fields, the sweat of a dance hall, the swelter of a New York City summer. The two main characters, Cesar and Nestor love in completely different, but totally compelling, ways. For Nestor, love is...more
Mike
I almost quit this a few times in the first 50 or 150 pages, and I guess I'm glad I didn't.

About 40% of this is really really bad, and monotonous to read. That includes all of the sex scenes (which make up about 30% of the book), and the narrator's really weird and disturbing fixation on the protagonist's member (which take up about another 10%).

But the other 60% was amazingly good, beautiful, evocative, lyrical, excellent writing about NYC in the 1950s and 60s, and Cuba in the 1930s and 40s....more
Julia
The main character in this book is an old guy drinking in a hotel room, and (to its credit, I guess) the book is a lot like being in a hotel room with an old guy: stories from his bygone youth, a few central events repeated again and again in different lights. I kept wanting to get up and say "Welp, look at the time! Gotta go, OK bye", and then a new yarn would begin, and next thing I knew another couple hours/hundred pages would be gone, and then eventually the guy dies and the book's over and...more
Pep Bonet
I'm sorry, Óscar, hombre, but I had many pains with you. I had been longing to read your book for a long while. I had you in my list of American Hispano authors to read. I had already seen some reviews which were not too positive, but still. And I must say they were right. The book is longish, repetitive. A couple of ideas extended to become a long book. I feel I read the same sentences several times. Anyway, with the story coming back again all the time and all the descriptions of the fabulous...more
April
At least two or three times he mentions the man's 'thick tongue' in describing a kiss. Weird.

If you like to read horrible books that won big prizes (Pulitzer), read this one.
Lisbeth Solberg
Yeah, it's about excess, but it's a bit...excessive.
Sharyl
Beautiful Maria 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."

Oscar Hijuelos's novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love is a beautifully written historical novel about Cesar Castillo, who comes to New York City from Cuba in 1949 with his younger b...more
Doreen
Oct 26, 2012 Doreen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Diane, Jan F., Cathy, Sara
Recommended to Doreen by: read another of the author's books
Hijuelos infuses color, fragrance, rhythm, melody, and flavor into this story, creating a tortured, romantic, immigrant's tale. The story is told against the backdrop of the New York clubs of the era, when Spanish music and dancing was all the rage. The novel takes place predominantly in the 50's and 60's. The immigrants are colorful, passionate Cubans. They leave their homeland before Castro comes to power and travel to New York City for a chance to follow their own interpretations of the Ameri...more
John
Aug 26, 2012 John rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of Cuban music
Oscar Hijuelos' Pulitzer Prize winning book The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love is one of those that you'll either find to be colorful and lyrical, or confusing and monotonous. For this reader, this book falls into the first category, a rediscovered treasure read originally years ago and found here once again. It's my third copy over the years since I bought it originally early in 1990.

Author Hijuelos tracks a family from one country to another through the world of and a culture from one world t...more
Marigold
Here is what life was like for two young Cuban musicians who came from Havana to play the mambo in hot and humid dance halls in 1950s NYC. Here is what life was like in the streets, the nightclubs & for Latino immigrant families. This is a book to delight the senses, that allows you to see the colorful outfits, hear the music in your heart, & almost taste the food & enjoy the rum! Cesar is a far from perfect man, but he's a man you'll remember for a long time, and a man who's determi...more
Jessica
Nov 10, 2007 Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those with an abiding interest in sex, cubans, and lucille ball
It's hard to review this without getting into the food metaphors, but I'm gonna do my best:

This is a good novel to pick up when you need something you can seek your teeth into (damn!), or maybe more accurately, if you want something that'll sink its teeth into you. This book isn't much work to read, but I remember it being a fairly intense emotional experience. I know I was absorbed while reading it, and a few years later what I remember of it can pretty much be condensed into the following:

1. S...more
Angel
I read this back in 2001. I barely got through it since I was between comps. and transferring to library school. It was my first foray into Hijuelos's works, and I enjoyed very much. My impression back then:

>>This is a novel heavy on nostalgia and memory where I could almost hear the music and feel the passion of the characters.<<

I am honestly not sure where some of the bad reviews here on GoodReads for this book come from, but as we say in libraries, "never apologize for your book...more
Ozma
After taking AP Spanish, I grew an appreciation for literature originally written in Spanish. This book was all the rage in the early 90s, and then the movie came out with Antonio Banderas! The book was good, but it wasn't as magical as an Allende novel. It was very real, about revolutions and separation from loved ones. These brothers are a mambo band, and one is very focused on getting ahead and becoming the next Desi Arnaz, while the other misses the love of his life, left behind when the bro...more
Luis
Being Cuban-American myself, I was eager to read this book. I struggled with it. I think it was because Mr. Hijuelos writing style is not for me. Maybe fictional memoirs are not for me. There were a few interesting parts, but for the most part it was very slow and dragged on. How many pages does it take for me to understand that Nestor was lovesick over Maria? Also, I would have to say that not all Cubans have sex on their minds 24/7. I think that Cubans are very passionate people and like to ro...more
Angela
I'm going to let my progress notes speak for themselves:

01/07/14 8.0% "As I get further along, I expect to understand why our narrator is so obsessed with the size of his penis."

01/07/14 13.0% "Okay, so he's a womanizing macho product of his culture. That explains it."

01/08/14 28.0% "Getting rather tired of the constant sex and penis-measuring masquerading as character development. But it's a Pulitzer winner, so I'll give it just a little bit more time."

01/12/14 41.0% "I'm calling it quits here....more
Laura
Had to read this book for my book club. I don't think I've ever in my life done so much skimming. I'm usually quite an OCD reader, often rereading sentences to make sure I got the full gist of the sentence, or a glorious turn of phrase, or gave full appreciation to an author's expression. With this book, however, yeesh, maybe half the book was plot (and not a very well plotted plot, either), and the other half was description description description... of music, of clothing styles, of cars, of s...more
Kara
I wasn't expecting quite so many throbbing penises. The Mambo Kings was pretty good read. I have little patience for page-long spasms into stream-of-consciousness after a triple espresso. Too gimmicky. But that was a very small part of the book, and I was pleasantly surprised how much suspense the author managed to create towards the end. It's not terribly plot driven, so you really need to slow down and read it to get what the author's trying to do. In that way, it is similar to Garcia Marquez.
Susan
This book is set in a seedy hotel on the last day of the main character's life. He spends it re-examining his life and his relationships. The book is about lost opportunities, mistaken dreams, illusions, and most poignantly, not understanding what you have until you lose it.

I have very mixed feeling about this book. I found it difficult to read. It is told in retrospect, and it has no chapters. That gives it an urgency, but it creates a sense of frustration as well. This isn't a book that a rea...more
Todd
I've been in love with the title of this book forever, but this was the biggest literary letdown of the year for me (so far). It's clear Oscar Hijuelos is a first-rate prose technician, and this makes it doubly madding that he's written this painfully repetitive novel. I want to say that again: this novel is painful to read because it is so mind-numbingly repetitive. He's wasted the best story of his life and killed the magic of the title for me.
Matthew
An engaging and vivid portrait of a man (Cesar Castillo) his brother, his loves, and all the people he reached and touched with his music. His path his life took from abused farm boy in Cuba to successful musician in New York to broken down old man is charted with humanity and real affection for the character. He, and all the characters, is filled with such a lust for life that radiates from the page. Hijuelos paints such a complete portrait of a man that had reached (or almost reached) the leve...more
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Oscar Hijuelos (born August 24, 1951) is an American novelist. He is the first Hispanic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Hijuelos was born in New York City, in Morningside Heights, Manhattan, to Cuban immigrant parents. He attended the Corpus Christi School, public schools, and later attended Bronx Community College, Lehman College, and Manhattan Community College before matriculating into and...more
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