The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

Published: 1989

Genre: historical fiction

Length: 407 pages

Setting: Cuba and NYC, 1950s-1980s

Interest: It won a Pulitzer Prize

Summary: We follow the life of Cesar Castillo. In the book, he’s an old man who’s checked himself into a hotel room to drink himself to death. He’s reminiscing about his life as a Cuban mambo player. Cesar was originally from Cuba. He and his brother, Nestor, left their farm to become musicians, first in Havana, then in Miami, and finally moving to NYC. While their group, the Mambo Kings, never made it huge, they enjoyed moderate levels of fame. Nestor eventually settled down (although was never truly happy), but Cesar continued to party his way through life. Cesar was always looking for the next gig, drink, or lady to forget his troubles with.

Final thoughts: This book did a great job describing a particular ethnic scene I didn’t know much about – Cuban exiles. That being said, the amount of sex described throughout the book took away a lot of the enjoyment I might have gotten from the book. Cesar was always on the prowl for the latest hook-up, and he liked to remember the many sexual encounters he had. It made him seem like more of a man. Not bad enough to give up on, but not one I particularly enjoyed or would have finished if it hadn’t been for the Pulitzer Prize associated with it. It was also one of those books I just keep reading to see if it got better, but no. The end is very similar to the beginning. We just hear about different parts of Cesar’s life, but he didn’t change too much as he got older.

Title comes from: The Mambo Kings was the name of the group Cesar headlined, and one of their albums was THe Mambo Kings Play Song of Love.

Awards won: Pulitzer Prize in 1990

Reading challenges fulfilled: 6/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge, an H in my Author Alphabet Challenge, and 3/12 in my Award Winning Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!


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