Latino Literature in America

By Bridget Kevane | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

The Fiction of Oscar Hijuelos: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989)

Oscar Hijuelos was born in Manhattan in 1951 of Cuban parentage. His parents had left Cuba for New York in the 1940s and settled in Spanish Harlem. Hijuelos was distanced from the tight-knit community of Miami Cubans, who practically define life for Cubans in the United States. In this respect, Hijuelos has said, “In New York, I live in a much more fragmented world in the sense that I belong to many communities and at the same time not solidly to any one” (Bowman 1). Hijuelos attended public schools in New York. He then went on to the Bronx Community College, and finally to the City College of New York, from which he received his B.A. and M.A. in English and Writing. While at City College, he studied with writers like Susan Sontag, Joseph Heller, and Donald Bartheleme. After college, he continued to write while working at different jobs. He also played in jazz bands in New York. His first novel, Our House in the Last World, was published in 1983. This fictional autobiography stems from Hijuelos’s childhood and contains many autobiographical elements: Spanish was spoken in his home; Hijuelos’s father worked as a cook in a hotel, was an alcoholic and died young; his mother wrote poetry; and Hijuelos, like his protagonist Héctor, was hospitalized for a long enough time to learn English and to lose the ability to converse fluently in Spanish. His next work, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, published in

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