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A Simple Habana Melody

3.43  ·  Rating Details ·  338 Ratings  ·  35 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 P

Paperback, 342 pages
Published June 17th 2003 by Harper Perennial (first published 2002)
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Roger DeBlanck
Jan 25, 2012 Roger DeBlanck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, fiction
Most of Hijuelos’s novels deal with Cuban immigrants and their process of acculturation in America. In his most interesting work, 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 at Bu
David Lentz
Jun 20, 2011 David Lentz rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 01, 2015 1.1 rated it liked it
Halfway into this novel I was already thinking about the review (I hate this when it happens, but it does) and wondering if two stars was too unfair. At the time I thought so, but somehow I was won over by the final pages, though still not convinced of any inherent greatness. It's a decent piece of fiction, but there are some really flawed and/or plain sections of prose (from a writer who is clearly capable of more) and the story is not entirely there. I don't like prodigies or stories about pro ...more
May 11, 2011 Nick rated it it was ok
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
Aug 12, 2011 Ronald Wise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 20, 2013 Robsy rated it liked it
I agree with previous posters that this book is hella repetitive. Take, for example:

P98: " 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: " 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
May 15, 2009 Sue rated it really liked it
Shelves: international
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 Aenlle
Feb 03, 2011 Maria Aenlle rated it liked it
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.
Dec 29, 2010 Andrea rated it did not like it
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.
Sep 10, 2007 Monica rated it did not like it  ·  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.
Jul 27, 2012 Neil rated it it was ok
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
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.
Jan 11, 2012 Becca rated it liked it
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.
Oct 10, 2007 Jim rated it liked it
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.
Dec 03, 2012 Despina rated it it was ok
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!
Aug 11, 2009 Marvin rated it did not like it
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.)
Jun 29, 2016 Llabuda rated it really liked it
This is a Cuban novel peopled by real people from music, art and history worlds. The protagonist, Israel Lewis, is the center of the story and composer of "Rosas Puras." This is a story of his quiet and difficult life in a time and place that fascinate.
Feb 11, 2010 Erin rated it really liked it
Random book I picked up this summer, but really good!
Mar 30, 2009 Carolyn rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
Liked the historical context and the character development, but it just wasn't as satisfying as I had hoped.
Apr 15, 2012 Elisa rated it it was amazing
I've got tears in my eyes in public because I just finished this unbearably beautiful book. It's on my favorites list forever.
Mar 08, 2009 Tammy rated it liked it
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.
Apr 24, 2014 Barbara rated it really liked it
v good book reads well plus some added history of early 1920-1940 Cuba and brings in the WW2
Jun 27, 2015 Alicia rated it liked it
Shelves: cuba
Not quite as engaging as his other works, but still lyrical writing.
Jan 18, 2012 Heep rated it liked it
Easy to read but a little slow. "Half-Blood Blues" covers similar themes and time period but is a far more impressive work.
Jun 09, 2011 Catherine rated it liked it
Book club.
Carl Unbehaun
Dec 08, 2010 Carl Unbehaun rated it liked it
Very sensual!
May 31, 2012 Laura rated it it was ok
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.
Feb 22, 2010 Lu marked it as half-read  ·  review of another edition
try again too many things going on....
Rachel Coyne
Jun 07, 2011 Rachel Coyne rated it it was amazing
humid, immense, organic at time overwhelming. unfortgettable characters. delighted to have read this.
Apr 11, 2009 Bonnie rated it did not like it
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.
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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 about Oscar Hijuelos...

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