Hijuelos. Oscar. The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1989.
Reason read: March is Music month.
Delve into this book if you want a cultural education in Cuba and its music. Taking place in the 1950s, two Cuban brothers emigrate to the United States with big dreams of conquering the music scene. Cesar Castillo looks back on his life, playing mambo music with his brother, Nester and having a small spotlight in the fame arena after a guest appearance on an episode of I Love Lucy. I read this book on the heels of the Netflix documentary about Desi and Lucy so it seemed as if the couple was everywhere. Confessional: I couldn’t really get into this book. The parts where Desi Arnez makes an appearance were my favorite and, as the story went on, I began to skip scenes that involved sex or Nestor pining over “Beautiful Maria.” I grew weary of the repetition. I did appreciate all the references to music of the era.
Author fact: Hijuelos was honored with the 1985 Rome Fellowship in Literature of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Book trivia: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love was made into a movie starring Antonio Banderas in 1992.
One of the best aspects of Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love is the musical education you will get. Singers, composers, pianists, violinists, and lyricists from Catalan, Dominican, Cuban, Columbian, and Puerto Rican backgrounds flood the pages of Mambo.
Playlist (because this is a book about music, there was a lot to mention.): Musicians and composers – Alberto Beltran, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Beny More, Cesar Nestor, Desi Arnaz, Enric Madriguera, Ernesto Lecuona, Fletcher Anderson, Glorious Gloria Parker, Maurio Bauza, Mongo Santamaria, Miguelito Valdez, Manny Jimenez, Nelson Pinedo, Nat King Cole, Noro Morales, Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Olga Chorens, Ornette Coleman, Rene Touzet, Tito Rodriguez, and Vincento Valdez.
Songs: “Acercate Mas,” “Besame Mucho,” “Beautiful Maria of My Soul,” “Cielito Lindo,” “Frenesi,” “Hong Kong Mambo,” “In the Still of the Night,” “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” “Mambo de Paree,” “Mambo Nine,” “Mambo for a Hot Night,” Mambo Number Eight,” and “Twilight in Havana.”
Nancy said: Pearl included a sentence about the plot for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called Cuba Si!” (p 68)
What to tell you? I spent February in a tailspin of old memories. To blame it on one singular event would be too simplistic. As they say, it’s complicated. Very. In other news I have been running! Successfully, I might add. February saw 40 miles conquered. Here are the books planned and completed:
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez (EB & print).
- Little Havana Blues edited by Julia Poey and Virgil Suarez (EB & print).
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber (EB, AB & print).
- The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (EB & print).
- All Deliberate Speed: reflections on the first half century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr (EB & print).
- Barrow’s Boys by Fergus Fleming (EB & print).
- Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark (EB & print).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- The 21: a journey into the land of the Coptic martyrs by Martin Mosebach (just started reading).
Leisure (print only):
- Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders: The Power of Human Migration and the Way That Walls and Bans Are No Match for Bravery and Hope by ICPBS.
- Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock.
- Morning Star by Nick Bantock.
- The Museum at Purgatory by Nick Bantock.
- Alexandria by Nick Bantock.
- The Gryphon by Nick Bantock.
Poey, Delia, and Virgil Suarez, eds. Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology. Houston: Texas: Arte Publico Press, 1996.
Reason read: the current Cuba reformed constitution was put into place in the month of February of last year.
Little Havana Blues is a unique anthology comprised of fifty poems, twelve short stories, three plays, and eleven essays. The introduction argues that Cuban-American literature is not new to the 1990s. Because most published works were in Spanish, the emergence of Spanish-English sheds a whole new light on the literature. The “Spanglish” culture reverberates through every single submission.
I have to admit, the oddest story is, “The Defector” by Ricardo Pau-Llosa, a fiction about a talking capybara who lives is a bizarre zoo.
Most interesting quote from “Memories of My Father” by Omar Torres, “I don’t know why a woman would want to get married; you’re either a housewife, an old maid or a prostitute” (p 363).
I have been reading a lot about Cuba lately. I feel that learning about Cuba’s rich and troubled history helped me appreciate the submissions in Little Havana Blues.
Author Editor fact: Virgil Suarez’s writing is included in Little Havana Blues.
Book trivia: Little Havana Blues was made possible through several different grants.
Nancy said: Pearl said Little Havana Blues is an “excellent introduction to many writers who are likely to be unfamiliar to mainstream American readers” (p 68).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cuba Si!” (p 68).
I am consistently running (yay). My head is finally screwed on straight – somewhat (yay). Things are not perfect but I can say February is mostly fixed.
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber – in honor of Charles Dickens and his birthday being in February. Weird, I know.
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez – in honor of my childhood.
- Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology edited by Virgil Suarez and Delia Poey – in honor of Cuba’s reformed constitution.
- The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley – in honor of February being friendship month.
- Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark – in honor of Clark’s birthday.
- All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half Century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. – in honor of February being Civil Rights month.
- Barrow’s Boys: A stirring Story of Daring, Fortitude, and Outright Lunacy by Fergus Fleming – in honor of Exploration month.
- Making Tracks by Matt Weber – a Christmas gift from my sister.
Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long fight for Cuba: the Biography of a Cause. New York: Viking Press, 2008.
Reason read: January 1st is Triumph of the Revolution Day in Cuba.
Think about this for a second. The Bacardi business started in 1862. When you think “rum” what brand comes to mind first? Exactly.
My favorite takeaway from Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba is how brilliant the Bacardi Moreau family has been at business marketing and self promotion. Early on they knew how to tap into supply and demand during Prohibition. They understood the importance of moral advertising in Puerto Rico, removing women from their posters, for example They knew when to exploit the World’s Fairs happening around the world in places such as Charleston, St. Louis and as far away as Paris. They were involved in any major event that would draw attention. [As an aside, I just finished watching the Tim Burton movie, “Big Eyes” and I couldn’t help but think of mastermind Walter Keane as he exploited his wife’s artwork anyway that he could.] Bacardi treated their employees well with profit sharing as early as 1916. When they couldn’t go to the marketing, the marketing came to them in the form of public figures, such as Ernest Hemingway who put the name Bacardi in his book, Islands in the Stream.
Deeply tied to the Cuban cause, as patriots the Bacardi struggled to make a real difference, but as producers of high quality libations, they flourished. Their drink, the daiquiri was a nod to Cuba Libre. But Cuba was not its own. In 1898 it was either Spain or U.S. flags that were flown. When Spain was no longer in control it was like making deals with devil. The U.S. swoops in and changes everything. Infrastructure is improved but the locals are confused. Then along comes Castro…even he cannot ignore the Bacardi name which causes major trouble for the Bacardi name. Let me stop there. Read the rest of this biography of a beverage.
Last comment: my favorite trivia is the fact that Emilio and Elvira wanted to bring back a mummy from Egypt for the Bacardi museum. It needed to be taxed as “dried meat” in order to make the journey back to Cuba.
Line I liked, “Then he would be left alone with his own soul” (p 79), “the people of Santiago had never before seen a Cuban flag flying over their own city hall” (p 91).
Author fact: Gjelten, at the time of Book Lust To Go’s publication was a reporter for NPR. According to NPR’s website, he’s still there.
Book trivia: I always love it when an author can include the pictures they describe in the text. Gjelten does this a few times and it is always wonderful to see what he captures his attention, to see the pictures through his eyes. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba includes a good number of black and white photographs.
Nancy said: Pearl called Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba “fascinating.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean” (p 52).
Believe it or not, I’m kind of happy with the way January is shaping up already, five days in. After the disappointments of December I am definitely ready for change. I’m running more these days. I convinced a friend to see sirsy with me. I’m not sure what she thought, but I am still in love with the lyrics. Anyway, enough of that. Here are the books:
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett – in honor of Bennett’s birthday being on the 14th of January. (EB)
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen – in honor of Bruen’s birthday also being in January. Confessional: I read this book in one day. (EB)
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat – in honor of Danticat’s birthday also being in January. (EB)
- Graced Land by Laura Kalapakian – in honor of Elvis’s birth month also being in January.
- Passage to India by E.M. Forster – in honor of Forster’s birth month also being in January. Yes, celebrating a lot of birthdays this month!
- Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten – in honor of a Cuban Read Day held in January.
- Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel – in honor of China’s spring festival.
- Persuader by Lee Child – the last one in the series, read in honor of New York becoming a state in July (and where Child lived at the time I made this whole thing up). (AB)
- The Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset – this is another series I am wrapping up. I started it in October in honor of a pen pal I used to know in Norway.
- I am supposed to receive an Early Review from November’s list, but it hasn’t arrived so I can’t mention it. For the first time in a long, long time (perhaps ever, I’ll have to look), I did not request a book for the month of December.
Garcia, Cristina. The Aguero Sisters. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
Reason read: December is the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had removed the “best time to travel to [fill in the blank]” but I guess not.
The Aguero Sisters starts with a bang (pun totally intended). Ignacio and Blanca Aguero are a husband and wife naturalist team, slogging through the Zapata swamp shooting specimens for a U.S. based museum. Suddenly forty-four year old Ignacio turns the gun on his wife and pulls the trigger…The mystery of what really happened in the swamp on that day in 1948 doesn’t become clear until much, much later.
The rest of the novel follows the lives of Ignacio’s adult daughters and their very different lives. Constancia Aguero Cruz lives in New York, married to a tobacco shop owner with a daughter in Oahu and a son in Morningside Heights, New York. She has been kept apart from her sister in Cuba for as long as she can remember, but she doesn’t really know why. Reina was only six when her mother died. She still lives in Cuba as an electrician and mechanic and has many passions, seducing married men. She has a daughter, Dulcita, in Madrid, Spain. Interspersed between this current-day, third-person narrative is Ignacio’s first person account of his life, starting with remembering his parents, Reinaldo and Soledad Aguero. Through his accounts, the history of Ignacio and his daughters becomes clearer and clearer, like sediment settling in the bottom of a glass of murky water once the agitation of stirring has stopped.
Line I liked, “Reina stares out the window for hours trying to make sense of the density of stars” (p 39). Me too, Reina. Me too.
Other lines worth mentioning, “she is the first to admit she has a low threshold for disorder” (p 27), “My sense of smell is heightened by hunger” (p 205), and “A confidence in her walk is what gives birth to lust” (p 233).
Author fact: Like her characters, Garcia grew up in Havana and New York.
Book trivia: Garcia does a fantastic job fleshing out the characters of The Aguero Sisters. So much so that I felt it necessary to take notes on all the details.
Nancy said: Pearl included the Aguero Sisters as one example of wonderful novels being turned out by Cuban emigres.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cuba Si!” (p 68).
December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:
- The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
- A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.
- A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
- The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
- Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
- Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.
- Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
- The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.
Valdes, Zoe. Yocandra in the Paradise of Nada: a Novel of Cuba. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1995
Reason read: June is Caribbean Heritage Month & Yocandra takes place mostly in Cuba.
Meet Yocandra. She is a woman with an identity crisis. Born Patria, at sixteen she develops a rebellious streak and marries an author turned philosopher who takes her away from her beloved Cuba for some time. She is a wild child, fiery and passionate, just like her homeland. I don’t know how to explain the rest of this short novel. Yocandra’s second marriage ends in death & so at an early age she is a widow. That doesn’t slow her down in the least. She has two lovers, the Nihilist and the Traitor. At best, Yocandra is a handful, and all one can hope to do is just try to keep up with her.
Lines worth mentioning, “There I was, a tiny little lump slimy with maternal gook, wrapped in the Cuban flag, and already my father was scolding me for failing to fulfill my revolutionary duty” (p 11), “What sin has a people committed that causes the sea to demand expiation?” (p 54), “In my heart I’m still more Cuban than the palm trees and no one can ever change that” (p 90), and “Apparently our politics can be determined from our excrement” (p 152).
Author fact: Yocandra is Valdes’s first novel.
Book trivia: Yocandra was translated from the Spanish by Sabina Cienfuegos. She includes notes about references and Spanish dialect used in Cuba. Very useful. Another detail of note – this could be considered a short story being barely 150 pages in length.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cuba Si!” (p 68).