A beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist turns his pen to the real people and places that have influenced his life and literature. A comprehensive look into the mind of a writer.
Born in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights to Cuban immigrants in 1951, Oscar Hijuelos introduces readers to the colorful circumstances of his upbringing. The son of a Cuban hotel worker and exuberant poetry-writing mother, his story, played out against the backdrop of a working-class neighborhood, takes on an even richer dimension when his relationship with his family and culture changes forever. During a sojourn with his mother in pre-Castro Cuba, he catches a disease that sends him into a Dickensian home for terminally ill children. The yearlong stay estranges him from the very language and people he had so loved.With a cast of characters whose stories are both funny and tragic, Thoughts Without Cigarettes follows Hijuelos's subsequent quest for his true identity — a mystery whose resolution he eventually discovers hidden away in the trappings of his fiction, and which finds its most glorious expression in his best-known book,The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Illuminating the most dazzling scenes from his novels, Thoughts Without Cigarettes reveals the true stories and indelible memories that shaped a literary genius.
A modest yet inspired look back at his Manhattan upbringing by Cuban immigrants takes Pulitzer Prize winning Hijuelos from the early 1950s through the extraordinary success of his second novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Hijuelos's memoir, at times verbose, is very much a tender tribute to his parents. A campesino who immigrated to New York City in the early 1940s and worked as a short-order cook at the Biltmore Men's Bar, his "pop" was a largehearted man who loved to entertain his Cuban friends and eat and drink heartily; his voluble, anxious mother, from an upper-middle-class Cuban family, accompanied her new husband to America and remained fairly isolated in their Morningside Heights apartment, without English or job prospects, growing increasingly disgruntled by her husband's big-spending, lady-killing ways. The defining event of Hijuelos's childhood was his contracting deadly nephritis at age four while on a trip home to Cuba with his mother. Not only was he hospitalized for nearly a year and put on a strict diet for most of his childhood, but the illness, termed his "Cuban disease," also caused a rupture from his maternal language and his sense of being Cuban. Gradually he educated himself at City College, winning enthusiastic mentors like Donald Barthelme and Frederic Tuten, and transforming this awkward, rudderless "work in progress" into a gracious writer of well-deserved stature.