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Oscar Hijuelos, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (Perennial Library, 1990).
In 1949, Nestor and Cesar Castillo arrive in New York City from Havana with the dream of becoming mambo stars. In a few years they do, playing their hit, “Beautiful Maria of My Soul,” on “I Love Lucy” with their hero, Desi Arnaz, and making records with their band, the Mambo Kings. Hijuelos’s novel steps out from Cuban apartments in Harlem to the city’s dance halls and nightclubs. His 1950s in New York City seems so close that its rhythms can be your own, but also fifty years away. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1990.
Peter Watrous profiled Hijuelos in The New York Times in 1989. R.Z. Sheppard reviewed it in Time. Margo Jefferson reviewed it in The New York Times. Here is recent news about Hijuelos. The novel hooked Silvio Sirias forever on U.S. Latino and Latina literature. Psesito has some passages, and more in Spanish that I can’t read. Aleathia Drehmer loved it; Kelly Cooper did not like it at all. Here is a history of mambo. And here is Roger Ebert’s review of the 1992 movie.