Thoughts without Cigarettes: A Memoir Paperback – Jun 5 2012
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—Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana
—José Miguel Oviedo
—Esmeralda Santiago, author of Conquistadora and When I Was Puerto Rican
—Ray Suarez, Senior Correspondent, PBS Newshour
About the Author
Oscar Hijuelos is the international bestselling author of eight novels, including The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, for which he became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He also has received the Rome Prize as well as prestigious grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He lives in New York City.
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Hijuelos describes how he contracted nephritis during an otherwise idyllic visit to Cuba, and the subsequent year-long stay in a Connecticut hospital, which resulted in his estrangement from the Spanish language, his Cuban American identity, and the neighborhood. Despite his intense loneliness and alienation, Hijuelos doggedly made himself into a novelist, studying with Susan Sontag and Donald Barthelme at the City College of New York, composing his first novel nights and weekends while working at an advertising agency. The novel was favorably reviewed, including in The New York Times, but sold modestly.
While on an unexpected Prix de Rome fellowship, stimulated by the lush Mediterranean environment and a Korean girlfriend, Hijuelos started working on what would become The Mambo Kings. After two years in Italy, he returned to New York only to find a bill for overdue IRS back taxes. He was only able to resolve the situation when his agent negotiated an advance for his second novel with Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
In 1990 The Mambo Kings Plays Songs of Love was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and Hijuelos became the first Latino author to win the coveted honor. This section should be enlightening and inspiring for any fan of the novels or aspiring writer as an account of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles a professional novelist encountered in his trade--familial obligations, work, failed marriage, unstable neighbors, drug use--and that breathed disordered life into the books.
If there are fond remembrances of other writers such as Barthelme, Sontag and Frederick Tuten, it should also be noted that the memoir constitutes a settling of scores. Hijuelos recalls the indignities a light-skinned Hispanic writer experienced, elevated from obscurity into the highest echelon of the literary pantheon. Fame came at a psychological and social cost; this memoir is shot through with sorrow, anger and disillusionment about the world of letters. Hijuelos is painfully candid, too, about his divided self: one-part Bohemian hipster, one part pensive observer. The prose in Thoughts Without Cigarettes has a reflective ease even as Hijuelos' syntax has become more baroque. It's a life recollected in tranquillity. Highly recommended.