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Empress of the Splendid Season Paperback – December 23, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st HarperPerennial Ed edition (December 23, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060928700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060928704
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,540,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The collision of Cuban dreams with sometimes harsh American realities has been Oscar Hijuelos's great theme, most notably in Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Certainly it's at the heart of his fifth novel, Empress of the Splendid Season, which chronicles the trials, tribulations, and infrequent triumphs of a Cuban American clan over the course of a half century. The protagonist, Lydia Espana, has grown up in pre-Castro Cuba, the pampered daughter of a prosperous businessman. But when she has the audacity to violate her father's small-town code of conduct--by sleeping with an itinerant musician--she pays a terrible penalty: "Her family, turning unfairly against her with a nearly Biblical wrath, had banished her, unprepared to contend with an indifferent world."

Where is Lydia banished to? New York, of course. And in this most indifferent of cities, the former "queen of the Congo line" finds herself in a less exalted role: that of a cleaning woman. This demotion she accepts with a very credible mixture of resignation and rock-ribbed realism: "The hardest part of being a cleaning woman had to do with the way people looked at her; often as if she were 'nothing.' It hurt her most when men did not notice her. The nature of the work itself, the outfit, the end-of-the-day fatigue, the messiness of that labor were not glamorous, so what could she expect." Lydia is less sanguine about her family's difficulties, from her husband Raul's near-fatal heart attack to her son's brushes with the law. Empress of the Splendid Season is in fact an ensemble piece that passes the point of view from character to character, from generation to generation. But it's Lydia's sensibility--at once stoic and sensuous--that ultimately enlivens this latest take on the American (or perhaps Cuban American) Dream. --William Davies --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As in The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Hijuelos imagines the life of a humble Cuban-American from the late '40s to the present. Latin sensuality turns to Yankee drudgery when Lydia Espana the spoiled daughter of a small-town Cuban alcalde, is banished from her home in 1947 for staying out till dawn after a dance. Romantic and uneducated, she moves to New York, where marries, and becomes a cleaning woman to keep her sick husband (a handsome waiter with refined manners) and two children from the brink of poverty. Lydia worries and dotes in the manner of a quintessential immigrant mother trying to maintain respectability and make ends meet. While the drab black-and-white of her daily life runs its course, a rich Technicolor fantasy of time-before plays through her head. In memory, Lydia is again the Empress of the Splendid Season, beautiful enough to catch the eye of a Hollywood star. Depicting Spanish Harlem with relentless realism, Hijuelos penetrates the lives behind the humble tenements and massive university buildings. With poignancy, he captures the lonely fear of Lydia's son as he makes his way up the ladder of American success, the apex of which is perhaps not as enviable as he and Lydia assume. Familiar Hijuelos elements?Latin music, introspective men, touches of magic realism in quietly powerful prose?render here a tender and undramatic portrait of a complex woman and her culture. Agent, Harriet Wasserman. Literary Guild selection.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

OSCAR HIJUELOS, the son of Cuban immigrants, is a recipient of the Rome Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His seven novels have been translated into twenty-five languages. He lives in New York City and spends part of the year in Durham, North Carolina, where he teaches at Duke University.

Customer Reviews

Good insights into Latino culture of the 60s.
Susan Snyder
I kept thinking I was missing something, so I would go back to it, but it never kept my attention, and I did not care about the characters.
laura rubin
This is the least engaging of the three, but still a very nice book.
Sanson Corrasco

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By cccroberts@aol.com on February 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Oscar Hijuelos again creates an achingly poignant tale of the myriad joys and sorrows encountered in "ordinary" lives. Wonderfully evocative of New York City throughout the fifties, sixties and early seventies, the story follows the life of Lydia Colon, banished as a teen from her well-to-do family in Cuba by her father, irate over an amorous episode, and tossed into circumstances she considers below her standing. Her young husband's frail health forces her to take a position cleaning the homes of affluent New Yorkers, and brings her painfully close to lives of priviledge and plenty as she herself once felt destined to have. The author captures the fatigue and frustration of lives dimmed by resignation and ill fortune and yet never misses the sometimes brief, but meaningful and mysterious instances when happiness and comfort appear. As in Hijuelos' other works, also addressed are the issues of what it is to be Cuban, how to preserve that identity, and how to pass it along to generations entirely removed from an increasingly mythical island homeland.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Allen Kopp on April 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
"Empress of the Splendid Season" is the story of Lydia Espana, who was a society girl in Cuba before the revolution and who doesn't have such a wonderful life when she emigrates to New York. She is a very complex character, filled with longings and human frailities, but a positive character who is even heroic at times in a modest way. She meets and falls in love with a waiter and they have two children. When Lydia's husband, Raul, becomes ill with his heart, she has to assume the responsibility of supporting the family by her work as a "cleaning lady." She's forced to give up her dreams of romance and of a better life.
This is a wonderful book, well worth the time and effort it takes to read it. Oscar Hijuelos is one of the best writers around and fans of his work will not be disappointed by this one. However, I had the impression that this book doesn't break any new ground and doesn't quite rise to the level of his great earlier novels, "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love" and "Mr. Ives' Christmas."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The book is a graceful work about the life of an immigrant family in New York from the 40's to the present day. The book focuses on Lydia, a working class heroine, who goes from being a pampered, spoiled undisciplined rich girl in pre-revolutionary Cuba to a cleaning lady laboring for the well to do of the Big Apple. The book works best when focusing on the every day life of the dozens of every day characters that we meet. Although there is no major out of the ordinary climaxes in the story, Hijuelos' excellent prose makes us see how heroic ordinary life is. I reccommend this book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Anne Piervincenzi (annepier@ix.netcom.com) on July 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Lydia's life journey takes her from the tranquil, tropical Cuban countryside to the grind and grit of New York City's tenements, but it also takes her from the height of youth, beauty, privilege, prestige, and pride, to the tedium of middle age and anonymity....a universal journey, intensified by her exiled, immigrant status. Like all true heros, Lydia, with all her flaws, evokes empathy as she "muddles" through life, searching for her truth. Muchas gracias, Oscar......
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Chris Keller on May 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
It never ceases to amaze me that a male author can "capture" the spirit of a female, and represent a female as well as this author does. I also respect his ability to illuminate poverty--what it feels like to be poor, a minority, a stranger in a strange land. This author has much wisdom about the counter-balancing force of a strong worth ethic in this poor woman's life. The striving is melancholy; the mentality of poverty is in part that things will never change. She has a chronic sorrow . . . But Lydia is a lifelong learner, I feel, and a person able to adapt.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I can't imagine how other reviewers could call this book boring. I could have read it in one sitting, I just loved it. The period it evokes, the location (NYC), and the window on early Cuba -- all wonderful. Heartbreaking, real, complex, richly detailed, beautifully written. Can't wait to read "Mambo" now that I've been exposed to this great writer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed reading this book even though it was not in the same category as "The Mambo Kings". The story is enjoyable and well-written; however, at the end the reader feels like they never really got to know Lydia's children very well. They are portrayed as stereotypical teenagers for the first 1/2 of the novel and then the daughter all but disappears from the rest of the story. I would have preferred a more in-depth description of those characters.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gregory G. on August 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a novel that could be turned into a dramatic and engaging movie along the lines of "Mambo Kings." Nothing happens in this or other Hijeulos novels of great magnitude beyond the small circles of characters they embrace. But that's what makes this book great. He does a good job of transporting the reader into the lives of nobody important but who are filled with great dreams and aspirations. And there's enough intelligence and political and social commentary to elevate it beyond the typical hack drama and movie of the week dribble that books like this often are. It won't change the world, but it's an engaging and enjoyable read.
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