Frances's Reviews > The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love

The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
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Jul 07, 11

Read from May 21 to June 07, 2011

I'm about halfway through this book and I'm not sure whether I'm going to finish it. It has a circular narrative; long, disconnected, dreamlike and flashback-filled. You can skip around and read the end first and it won't much matter. I already know which main character dies and what happens to the other, but that's okay, suspense definitely isn't what drives this plot. It's just engaging enough to prompt me to pick it up when I'm trying to distract myself from a bad cold or waiting for the internet to load. But not much more. I wouldn't have picked it for a Pullitzer.
Case in point: there's an awful lot of sex-- a sex scene just about every other page-- and after the first three or four, they're boring. The same phrases, the same vocabulary, over and over. It's a device, yes, you're supposed to see that it's not the author who is obsessed with sex (and moles?) but the obsessive thoughts of the aged and dissipated main character. But that doesn't make him very sympathetic. At worst is grosses you out and at best makes you yawn and roll your eyes.
I got this book hoping there would be a good fictional imagining of the world of latin jazz, mambo and early salsa in New York in the 1950's. There are lots of singers' and album names dropped, and Desi Anaz of I Love Lucy fame has a cameo. But I was hoping it would convey Latin music skillfully in words, like the way Sandra Cisneros describes the sounds of Mexico City in Caramelo which I read (and loved) and reviewed here last year. No such luck.
Judging from other reviews here, people either love or hate this book. My reaction is "meh." It just doesn't grab me.

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Later: I didn't quite finish the book, but I read as much of it as I'm ever going to. Not recommended.
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