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The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love Paperback – Bargain Price, May 4, 2010

3.7 out of 5 stars 88 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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.

From Publishers Weekly

The Mambo Kings are two brothers, Cesar and Nestor Castillo, Cuban-born musicians who emigrate to New York City in 1949. They form a band and enjoy modest success, playing dance halls, nightclubs and quince parties in New York's Latin neighborhoods. Their popularity peaks in 1956 with a guest appearance on the I Love Lucy show, playing Ricky Ricardo's Cuban cousins and performing their only hit song in a bittersweet event that both frames the novel and serves as its emblematic heart. Hijuelos's first novel, Our House in the Last World , was justly praised for its tender vignettes of emigre Cuban life; here, he tells of the triumphs and tragedies that befall two men blessed with gigantic appetites and profoundly melancholic hearts--Cesar, the elder, and the bandleader, committed to the pursuit of life's pleasures, and Nestor, he of the "dark, soulful countenance," forever plunging through a dark, Latin gloom. In a performance that deepens the canon of American ethnic literature, Hijuelos evokes, by day, a New York of crowded Harlem apartments made cheery by Cuban hospitality, and by night, a raucous club scene of stiletto heels and waxy pompadours--all set against a backdrop of a square, 1950s America that thinks worldliness means knowing the cha-cha. With an unerring ear for period idioms ("Hello you big lug") and a comic generosity that renders even Cesar's sexual bravado forgivable if not quite believable, Hijuelos has depicted a world as enchanting (yet much closer to home) as that in Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera . The lyricism of Hijuelos's language is wonderfully restrained, conveying with equal facility ribald comedy and heartfelt pathos. Despite a questionable choice of narrative conceit (Cesar recollects the novel from a seedy "Hotel Splendour" in 1980), Hijuelos's pure storytelling skills commission every incident with a life and breath of its own.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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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: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,037,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Paperback
I can see why some people gave up on this Pulitzer Prize winning novel. The best writing is contained in the final 100 pages. All in all I didn't find the book much fun to read. Caesar Castillo, ex-Mambo King band leader, is holed up in the Hotel Splendor, dying from the ravages of alcoholism. The book represents his memeories on the last day of his life. Using an omniscient viewpoint, Hijuelos moves back and forth in time, creating flashbacks inside of flashbacks, but always converging on the final moment. That is the real genius of this work. Hijuelos style, unfortunately, is generally repetitive and boring, with only a couple of examples of the kind of original prose he is capable of. One is a page long description of all sorts of drum sounds and beats; another is a description of the fate of a Cuban boy sent to Vietnam, something like,"On his first jump he landed on a mine and they sent him back in a box the size of a Kleenex dispenser." The overall tone of the book is morose, in spite of the settings in Cuba, New York, California, and in many night clubs. Hijuelos uses a clinical, pornographic style in describing the countless sexual encounters of the stallion-hung Mambo King. After the death of his brother, the Mambo King becomes depressed and survives the next 20 to 25 years of his life only by numbing himself with alcohol, also taking comfort in his prodigious sexuality. But in the end, he has only the memories.
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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
NOTE TO KINDLE PUBLISHER-- The last pages of the book do not match the paperback version. The actual END of the book is there in the kindle version, BUT it goes ON to some additional pages that are earlier paragraphs from the book and if you don't know that you've read the end it seems to go on quite oddly. If I had not had the actual physical copy to compare them, I would be confused about where the book really ends. This does a huge disservice to this book. The kindle version (at least the one I purchased July of 2014) also eliminates the "afterward" and the author bio.
I loved this novel and thought it was beautifully written, however, I agree with some of the posters who have complained that it meandered too much. It DID meander, but those "meanderings" were fortunately, spectacularly beautiful. While reading, I kept thinking that with a better editor, it would be a more cohesive story. But as I thought about it, it seems that the meandering followed a jazz structure wherein there are improvisational riffs that do what they do and though connected to the song are also little works of art unto themselves. If you're reading for a structure that you've seen before in books, which is often a three-act structure, this novel may be frustrating. But if you read it just to experience and explore it, the way the character Caesar explores and delights in all the parts of a woman's body, you will find the way to experience this book. There IS a destination to the story, but this isn't a story about getting to a destination, it's about living in the moments and REALLY experiencing the fullness of each of them. The novel examines what ultimately feels like a real life, fully lived, with wonderful moments of joy and success and love AND deep disappointment and despair.
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