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Beautiful Maria of My Soul by Oscar Hijuelos
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Dec 22, 2010

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Read in December, 2010

Several themes are intertwined in this not totally successful novel. Among them is the fictional biography of Beautiful Maria, her career, her lovers, and most importantly, the love she has for her daughter Teresita. Another theme is Maria's love of country especially a valley in Pinar del Rio, her family home. This is offset by a description of Havana's seedy side before the Castro revolution. Finally, there is the song, Beautiful Maria of My Soul written by her dreamy and extremely passionate lover, Nestor Castillo.

After travelling from Pinar del Rio to Havana, Maria, innocent and illiterate, becomes a dancer in a second rate night club. She avoids becoming a prostitute. Many other dancers engaged in the trade. She does, however, become the mistress of Ignacio Fuentes, a gangster. Lazaro, an elderly black man, teaches her to read. Maria becomes more confident, independent and firm. Then she meets handsome and well endowed Nestor Castillo, a guitar player. They fall in love and have steamy sex. To her everlasting regret, Maria breaks the relationship believing there is no future with a poor musician.

After taking over, Castro tried to reform Havana and closed the seedy clubs where Maria danced. She and three year old Teresita flee to Miami where they experience much hardship. Eventually this is overcome and Teresita becomes an ontological pediatrician.

Hijuelos has several problems. His ending, which some may call daring, while others will consider it to be very poorly chosen, is the greatest problem. In the novel's ending chapters, he introduces himself, as Oscar Hijuelos the writer. He describes several meetings with his fictional characters. Hijuelos is also redundant. Maria's beauty is noted all too often. He also uses Spanish words and phrases, sometimes immediately translated to English but often not, causing a loss of thought.

Beautiful Maria does not live up to his earlier book, Mambo Kings. Mari's life is mildly interesting, but the book is justified by the strong descriptions of pre-revolutionary Havana and post- revolutionary Miami.
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