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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1 Reprint edition (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401310028
  • ASIN: B0043RT8M2
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #357,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Inspired by their heroes Xavier Cugat and Desi Arnaz, brothers Cesar and Nestor Castillo come to New York City from Cuba in 1949 with designs on becoming mambo stars. Eventually they do--performing with Arnaz on "I Love Lucy" in 1955 and recording 78s with their own band, the Mambo Kings. In his second novel, Hijuelos traces the lives of the flashy, guitar-strumming Cesar and the timid, lovelorn Nestor as they cruise the East Coast club circuit in a flamingo-pink bus. Enriching the story are the brothers' friends and family members--all driven by their own private dreams. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The Mambo Kings are two brothers, Cesar and Nestor Castillo, Cuban-born musicians who immigrate to New York City in 1949. They form a band and enjoy modest success, their popularity peaking in 1956 with a guest appearance on the I Love Lucy show. PW lauded this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel: "Hijuelos's pure storytelling skills commission every incident with a life and breath of its own."
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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

Very disappointing with very little depth to it.
Jody P
Conclusion: this is one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the book.
Antoninus Caracallus
This book is beautiful, rich, evocative and sensual both in its writing and theme.
Bonnie Brody

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Marsella on October 12, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had already read Simple Havana Melody and Mr. Ives Christmas and was developing a deep admiration for Oscar Hijuelos' talent as a writer. Since this is his best known work I knew I had to check it out. It is a very engaging book about Cuban brothers trying to make it in the US during the 50's Mambo craze. The story is very entertaining as many memorable characters both fictional and real Cuban musicians from the period are introduced.
The story while full of colorful epsiodes is ultimately tragic as the brothers age and life takes it's toll on each of them in very different ways.
Hijuelos uses sexual imagery and descriptions of food to create a steamy intensity to the story with great effect. That said the lurid sexual descriptions cited by many other reviewers may turn off some readers. While I was enjoying the book enough to overlook this, there are times when he does rely too much on this device and the novel starts to feel like a guilty pleasure. If you are OK with that type of writing then there are rewards to be had in the characterizations and plot. If you cannot stomach the hard-core sexual references that are integral to this book then stay away and try one of his other novels.
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49 of 59 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
I read this book, for the first time, for a college American Literature course about seven years ago. The teacher warned everyone in advance that it "may appear to be a bit too descriptive, too sexual but to please keep an open mind" because this was an integral part of the book. He was right. I found this book to be fascinating, sensual and written clearly enough that I felt as though I was a character on the sidelines, watching these two brothers go through their lives. To the readers who found this degrading to women, try to realize that these were lovers in the true definition. They were Cuban men who absolutely adored women; they appreciated the beauty of all women and showed it in the most physical sense possible. As a woman, I found the book to be truly sensual and enjoyable. Since reading this book I have made a point to read all of Hijuelos' books and, every year or two, I pick up "Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love" to go back to that time of raw sensuality that Hijuelos describes so well.
My teacher was right. Keep an open mind while reading this, or any, book. But, don't deny yourself the luxury of reading such a wonderful book!
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Kate on February 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
This was an excellent read, if not sold simply because of the vivid colourful Latino descriptions of the people, the persusaive sense of the fire of Latin America, and of course, the constant, often coarse, sex scenes.
It was such a bittersweet book, such an undercurrence of sadness and loss. It was essentially, a lament to old age and wasted youth. The detail is incredible, the emotions very real. It effectively captures the horrible sinking inevitability of death.
Hijelo's characters are wild, if not dislikable. This is perhaps the finest point of the piece; the characters are utterly human and terribly flawed.
Cesor's incredible libedo is at the forefront of the work, and there is a sense of humidity, sweat and the smells of sex that pervade the work. Hijelo should be admired for being able to conjuer up such senses. I found it a sensual read, however I disagree with many who describe the sex as sensual. It seemed very coarse, but this is not a criticism, it served its coarse purposes.
The only criticism I have is the distracting nature of many of the sex scenes. The sheer amount of them seemed somewhat unnecessary, however, they began to fade once Cesar aged.
Over all, innovative and superb.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Teresa Jansen on September 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The lives of Cuban immigrant musicians explored. Two brothers, Nestor & Cesar, part of "The Mambo Kings", playing their music, making records, finding fame, until a traffic accident kills the music. This book shows how the brothers' personalities were formed by their abusive father. Nestor: Sorrowful, prone to anxiety attacks, who, even after many years of marriage, is still pining for Maria, who left him for another. He lacks self-esteem and needs sorrow to create his music. Cesar: Made powerless by his father, finds his own power in his sexuality. He beds many women without forming true intimate relationships. He is vibrant, handsome and charismatic and needs happiness to create his music. Be forewarned - there are many graphic sexual situations.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Christian Engler on September 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Despite numerous spelling and grammatical errors in the Perennial Classics edition, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love is a novel of plucky inventiveness where the "post-modernist, non-linear style" and language lucidly conveys the wants that people -- men especially -- have: the longing for prosperity and achievement, the craving to feel good-looking, comely, the shaking off of a placid guise and to behave wildly, amorously as well as to let the inner appetite of what man wants to contribute to society manifest itself, make it palpable so people in the vacinity mutter to themselves, "I want to do that." Causing people to feel the pleasure and joy that is in one's mind and heart is the kernel of this book.
In this novel, we are introduced to two Cuban brothers, Cesar and Nestor Castillo, both musicians from Havana. One is outgoing and unreserved while the other is cogitative and solemn. As dreamers and immigrants, they hunger to make it is musicians, for that is where the good times are: women, alcohol, food, dancing and recognition. When they reach that peak, from blue-collar workers by day to saucy musicians by night, is the American dream as fulfilling as it was once thought to be? Or is there something in the essence of spirituality or love that can close the vacuous hole that plagues man's heart? Whatever you, as a reader conclude, there is no denying that the novel is brimming with vibrancy and life. A shimmering hue of ideals, culture and language make this book almost impossible to put down, despite the overlooked errors made by Perennial. Though sometimes graphic in its sexual candor and explicitness, the gratuitousness of the sex is what makes the "true love" theme so vitally important.
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