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A Simple Habana Melody
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A Simple Habana Melody

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  272 ratings  ·  34 reviews
It is 1947, and Israel Levis, a Cuban composer whose life had once been a dream of music, love, and sadness, returns to Cuba after being mistakenly imprisoned during the Nazi occupation of France.

When Levis arrives back in Habana, his mind returns to an unrequited romance with the alluring Rita Valladares, a singer for whom Levis had written his most famous song, "Rosas Pu
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Paperback, 368 pages
Published June 17th 2003 by Harper Perennial (first published 2002)
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Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos EireOur Man in Havana by Graham GreeneDreaming in Cuban by Cristina GarcíaThe Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar HijuelosThe Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara
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6th out of 91 books — 71 voters
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117th out of 266 books — 396 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 518)
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Steve Sckenda
Aug 19, 2014 Steve Sckenda rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Strugglers with Faith; Lovers of Music and Cuba; Nostalgiacs
Some people see the good in the universe and in people (Walt Whitman); some see the evil (Cormac McCarthy); some see good and evil as evenly distributed (de Toqueville); and some deny the existence of each (Nietzsche).

In the opening pages of “A Simple Habana Melody,” a musician returns home to Cuba in 1946 after having survived a German concentration camp. Israel Levis sees, smells, hears, and tastes all that he once loved on his beloved island, and this damaged soul begins to remember the world
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David Lentz
The writing in this novel about the musical career of a Cuban composer is itself lyrical. The narrative is prose that aspires to be, and is, both poetry and music. The phrasing and the flow of the syntax is melodious as the composer's experience, because of his name, in a Nazi concentration camp runs counterpoint to the theme. And "Rosas Puras", his most famous and enduring composition, reappears faithfully as a leitmotif throughout the narrative. El Gordito, Israel Levis, and his close relation ...more
Roger DeBlanck
Most of Hijuelos’ novels deal with Cuban immigrants and their process of acculturation in America. In his most interesting work to date, A Simple Habana Melody, he turns to Cuba, the homeland of his heritage, to explore the life of Israel Levis, a gifted and distinguished musician living in Habana (Hijuelos chooses to use the phonetic spelling of “Habana” instead of Havana). The novel begins with Israel’s return voyage home to Habana from Europe after his captivity in the Nazi concentration camp ...more
Nick
It is possible that no one admires Oscar Hijuelos' "The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love" more than I do. In "Mambo Kings", Hijuelos wrote what is my favorite kind of novel, one that opens up a community with depth and resonance, in which the narrative flows irresistibly. Subsequent efforts, some of them admirably in themselves, haven't measured up. "A Simple Habana Melody" reads almost like Hijuelos' effort to recapture the magic. Again, an aging musician lives in exile, again the haunting melody ...more
Ronald Wise
Cuban composer Israel Levis writes a simple melody called "Rosas Puras" which becomes world famous. Its fame and royalties allow him to relocate to Europe in time to be arrested in Paris as a Jew — he was a devout Catholic but the Nazis could not see beyond his name. I enjoyed the opportunity to see Cuba from times way before mine, and before my country's obsession with humiliating Castro. To me the simple melody was symbolic of a pure innocent desire, which lingered after all the destruction an ...more
Robyn
I agree with previous posters that this book is hella repetitive. Take, for example:

P98: "...in her case it was with the composer of "Rosas Puras", Israel Levis himself, who, ever gentlemanly, to her disbelief, had always been too timidly disposed around her."

P143: "...in her case with the composer of "Rosas Puras", Israel Levis himself, who, to her disappointment, had always been too timidly inclined around her."

That is but one example out of many.

Yet, I did not think this book was boring an
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Janice Thompson
Not since I read Andre Dubus' "House of Sand and Fog" did I cry so much at the ending of a novel. First rate. Highly recommended.
Barbara
v good book reads well plus some added history of early 1920-1940 Cuba and brings in the WW2
Alicia
Jun 27, 2015 Alicia rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: cuba
Not quite as engaging as his other works, but still lyrical writing.
Sue
With a style as lyrical as music itself, Hijuelos explores the depths of longing and loss, and the pinnacles of life and love. Israel Levis, a devout Catholic and successful composer in pre-war Cuba, struggles with the challenges of success, love, and family, survives imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp, and ultimately finds salvation and peace.
Maria Martinez
I liked the book. The characters were memorable and the description of what the musician went through in Germany during WWII was quite disturbing and impressionable. His description of what happened in Cuba under Machado was accurate in some way and not in others. The book could have been shorter. A little repetitive but I finished it.
Andrea
BOOOOOOOOORING. Fiction written like a biography of Cuban composer. Just didn't capture my attention, though the author really tried through a variety of methods including referring WAY too many times to the main character's giant penis and how admired it was by the MANY, many women he took to his bed. Ugh. Not impressed.
Monica
Sep 10, 2007 Monica rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: insomniacs
This book is so boring, so annoying. Doesn't go anywhere. I felt like the author had a word quota, so it seemed like he had to keep repeating things. And the story line barely gets anywhere. I stuck it out hoping it would get better. I'm trying to save the rest of humanity from the suffering. Don't bother with this book.
Neil
Quite enjoyed it in the end, although it was dull through the middle. It could have been a hundred pages less, some chapters were pointless and added nothing to the story. And seriously, how many times do we need to be told about his giant lad and his attraction to men, I got the point the first time
Becca
May 09, 2012 Becca rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Becca by: Dad
Sometimes when reading I would get lost and realize that I didn't understand the last few paragraphs - the language was often that flowery. But I enjoyed the story, and wanted so much for this man to finally be happy and be with his love and to find out how he ended up where he did.
Jim
A good story of a Cuban Bachelor pianist and composer who writes a famous song, struggles with his sexuality, is misidentified as a Jew in WWII Paris and is sent to a concentration camp, and his love for two women. Not as good as some of his other books, but a good read.
Debby K
I agree with many reviewers in that I found this book boring when I read it years ago. I wonder perhaps if I had read it today I might have appreciated it better.

Liked the movie " The Mambo Kings" based on his other book though!
Marvin
It repeats itself endlessly, as a Cuban musician who had traveled to France & been interred in a concentration camp during WWII, reflects on his life after he returns to Cuba. (I gave up after about 100 pages.)
Tami
This was ok. I also read Hijuelos' other stuff, like Mambo Kings, as well as Empress of the Splendid Season. I really really enjoyed reading Empress of the Splendid Season, a great read. This was ok.
Tammy
I enjoyed taking the journey with the lead character, a Cuban bachelor who worked as a composer. The book follows his lifelong unrequited love affair. Beautifully written.
Khalil
The BEST book I have read in my life. The perfect unfaulable description of the Habana of the past. The family ties, the love and the trials of life.
Laura
This book was so. boring. I hated the main character, and it seemed to go on about 100 pages too long. I wouldn't recommend at all.
Heep
Easy to read but a little slow. "Half-Blood Blues" covers similar themes and time period but is a far more impressive work.
Bonnie
Slow, boring, I gave up in the middle, he just wasn't hooking me in. After 140 pages, it was just to repetitive and tepid.
Elisa
I've got tears in my eyes in public because I just finished this unbearably beautiful book. It's on my favorites list forever.
Carolyn
Liked the historical context and the character development, but it just wasn't as satisfying as I had hoped.
Rachel Coyne
humid, immense, organic at time overwhelming. unfortgettable characters. delighted to have read this.
J
Liked the style, liked the historical aspect, found it a bit repetitive.
Francine
Based on the facts of Moises Simons life. it bothered me
Erin
Random book I picked up this summer, but really good!
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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
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