My only previous experience with reading Hijuelos was The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which really is a fine novel, with a powerful sense of pathos for this aging musician, drunkenly reliving his past.
This month, Gotham Books released Oscar Hijuelos’s new memoir Thoughts Without Cigarettes, which tells his story growing up as an immigrant in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Hijuelos grew up in a small apartment in a rough, ethnically diverse Morningside Heights neighborhood. After falling ill following a trip to Cuba to visit his mother’s family, Oscar finds himself for a year in a children’s convalescence hospital, separated from his family, his native language Spanish, and ultimately his heritage that creates a lifelong crack in his identity. As Oscar grows, he finds himself between two worlds: the vibrant and sometimes volatile, Spanish-speaking home he grew up in, where he no longer speaks the language, and the outside world, where his blonde hair and light coloring disguise his Latino background but his toughness and inferior education distinguish him from the Columbia students and other privileged people who cross his path.
Gotham Books has offered a copy of Thoughts Without Cigarettes to 3G1B to give to one of our readers. I’ll select the winner at random from the comments below. To enter, name a great book in which Cuba plays a prominent role.
I’ll start with Harlot’s Ghost by Norman Mailer for the great Bay of Pigs section.