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Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love [Paperback]

Oscar Hijuelos
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 9 1999 Perennial Classics

It's 1949. It's the era of the mambo, and two young Cuban musicians make their way up from Havana to the grand stage of New York. The Castillo brothers, workers by day, become by night stars of the dance halls, where their orchestra plays the lush, sensuous, pulsing music that earns them the title of the Mambo Kings. This is their moment of youth--a golden time that thirty years later will be remembered with nostalgia and deep afection. In The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love,Oscar Hijuelos has created a rich and enthralling novel about passion and loss, memory and desire.

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From Amazon

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
It was a Saturday afternoon on La Salle Street, years and years ago when I was a little kid, and around three o'clock Mrs. Shannon, the heavy Irish woman in her perpetually soup-stained dress, opened her back window and shouted out into the courtyard, "Hey, Cesar, yoo-hoo, I think you're on television, I swear it's you!" Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Que Bueno Es! April 17 2004
While plot is certainly important in a book, what most readers remember are rich, complex characters. One of the best writers of character is Oscar Hijuelos. I admit to being a "Hijuelos junkie," but even if I weren't I'd still have to admire his talent for creating characters and bringing them to life. My favorite "Hijuelos character" was Oscar Levis in A SIMPLE HABANA MELODY, but I also loved Cesar and Nestor Castillo in THE MAMBO KINGS PLAY SONGS OF LOVE.
Cesar and Nestor (who have many brothers and sisters) share a love of music-Cuban music-and more specifically, the mambo, but, in every other respect, they are very different people. Cesar is larger-than-life, he's extravagant, totally masculine and his baritone voice, when singing "songs of love" manages to capture the heart of every woman who hears it. Nestor is Cesar's opposite. Nestor is frail and melancholy and seems to simply recede into the wallpaper. While Cesar beds every woman who dares to look his way, Nestor pines away for Maria, a woman he knew only briefly, to the extent of composing twenty-two variations of his musical tribute to her, "Beautiful Maria of My Soul."
In 1949, Cesar and Nestor decide to emigrate to New York City because "that's where the music is." Cuba was no longer "home" to the habanera, the rumba, the mambo. The music had emigrated to New York, so Cesar and Nestor decide that's where they should be, too.
Arriving in New York City, Cesar and Nestor find plenty of music makers to emulate, but the one they care about the most is Desi Arnaz, who once worked in the same orchestra as Cesar. Cesar and Nestor tour America's east coast in a flamingo pink bus, dressed in suits of black and flamingo pink.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful plot, beautiful writing... Feb. 21 2004
By Kate
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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2.0 out of 5 stars The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love July 8 2002
What mainly attracted me to this book was the fact that it had won the Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, I assumed it was going to be excellent; however, I was very disappointed.
The plot had immense potential. There, supposedly, was the tale of the Castillo brothers, Cuban immigrants who come to New York hoping to "make it" as mambo musicians. They worked at a factory during the day, and worked at different clubs at night, and the tale was to tell of their daily life and neighborhood fame. The book's plot, however, centers around the "busy" sex life of the older brother Cesar, and the depression of the younger brother, Nestor... There is still, however, the faint story of the brother's fame. They become very popular in their neighborhood during the 1950s--the Mambo era--and manage to catch the attention of Desi Arnaz, who later invites the boys to appear in an episode of I Love Lucy (marking the heighth of the "Mambo Kings" fame and glory). After Arnaz, however, things fall apart and what's left of the Mambo Kings is old, tired, and pitiful.
While Cesar's sex life and Nestor's depression were the main plots, there were other shorter stories that really didn't fit...
In general, this book was poorly written (grammatical and spelling errors are everywhere), underdeveloped, and, at points, almost pornographic. It did not "move" me, and I never cared about any of the characters. This book was an extreme disappointment, and it's a wonder it won the Pulitzer. I wouldn't buy, or even read, this book.
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By A Customer
I bought this book when it first came out in paperback (I believe that was in 1990), and when I took it to the counter to pay for it, the young woman said, with a look of awe on her face, "Oh, what a wonderful book." I couldn't agree more with that bookstore clerk. This is the first book I read by Hijuelos, and as soon as I finished it, I went and got Hijuelos's first novel, "Our House in the Last World," and loved it every bit as much as "Mambo Kings." I've read Hijuelos's three novels that followed "Mambo Kings," and while they were all OK (this is a talented writer) they were not as good as his first two.
Oh, I almost forgot. About a year after I read "Mambo Kings," I lent it to a woman -- a very bright woman -- but, unlike me, she's just not much of a reader. She also loved this book.
I'm a female. The two aforementioned people are females. Unlike many of the previous reviewers, not one of us was one iota offended by the book's sexuality. Everything in the book rang true, and that's what counts.
My tastes change. I'm not so sure I would love this book now as much as I did about a dozen years ago. But that doesn't matter --my memory of how much I loved it back then is all that matters.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-worth the read, Cuban music culture in NY 40s onward
I read this book with few interruptions, save sleep. Perhaps, as it was not written in a day, it may have better not too consume too much too quickly, like a good wine needs time... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Sheryl in Vancouver
4.0 out of 5 stars A Book that is Hot and Spicy, filled with Music and Love
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... Read more
Published on Sept. 9 2003 by Teresa Jansen
4.0 out of 5 stars Fire and water
Anybody coming out of this book disappointed is missing the point completely--the Pulitzer Prize may be highly sought after in literary circles, but it's not the 'Holy Grail'. Read more
Published on June 12 2003 by Greekfreak
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow
After I read this book, I immediately read all of Hijuelos' other books; this one remains the best of them all. Read more
Published on March 19 2003 by J Osorio
3.0 out of 5 stars Was able to put down.
For my psych. self development course my teacher chose this book for us to read. I was very much into it at first, even with my busy schedule I was able to read much at a time... Read more
Published on Nov. 17 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Smooth Grooves
The moment I started to read The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, I knew I would like it. The writing is descriptive and creative, and the author, Oscar Hijuelos makes you want to... Read more
Published on Dec 18 2001 by Ashley
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
"The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love" is a book that has really made me ask myself who and what I want to be as a person. Read more
Published on Dec 15 2001 by Brian Cox
4.0 out of 5 stars Great novel, bad edition
I'm re-reading this novel for a class and find it as moving as the first time around. If you're interested in this novel, however, try a different edition than the perennial... Read more
Published on Nov. 26 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Total Immersion Program in Cuban-American Culture
This is an enjoyable read: cover-to-cover. Detailing the life and adventures of Cesar Castillo 'the Mambo King' and his brother, players in a mambo band who migrate to America to... Read more
Published on July 30 2001 by "k8books"
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