6 Books by Master Storyteller Oscar Hijuelos
Oscar Hijuelos is an award-winning author from a Cuban immigrant family who resided in New York. They had to overcome the many adversities of their new life in a big city and forget about the security of living in their homeland. In spite of this, they went through their days gracefully, accepting and welcoming what was to come next.
Throughout his books, you can find many pieces of his childhood, early career life, and his whole experience as an immigrant and first-generation American. Keep reading to find out more facts about Oscar Hijuelos, his personal struggles, and his impeccable storytelling talent. Also, take the chance to read his novels to learn Spanish!
Benefits of Reading Spanish Literature
For more than twenty years, experts have considered literature as a powerful and motivational tool when it comes to learning or enforcing a foreign language. Engage with this material and you will eventually become interested in reading more books in Spanish for pleasure. This will lead you to internalize the language and be able to contextualize forms of speech, idioms, semantics, and syntactics.
Read relevant material not only to enrich your experience as a Spanish learner but also to be able to differentiate between formal and colloquial language, and writing styles. You will eventually form opinions and will feel the need to ask and do research—which will lead you to be critical in Spanish and speak like a native.
Adding to all of this, Oscar Hijuelos books will also give you an idea of the cultural and even historic features that are attached to Hispanic backgrounds, bringing you closer to the first hand experiences of native Spanish-speakers
Oscar Hijuelos Biography and Writing Style
Oscar Hijuelos was born in Manhattan in a family of Cuban immigrants. He had a tough childhood since he struggled with nephritis. Oscar had to spend a whole year at a hospital in Connecticut. He was separated from his family and estranged from the Spanish language and his roots.
Oscar Hijuelos won the Pulitzer Prize—and was the first Hispanic to receive it for Fiction—for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. This book ended on the silver screen and on Broadway. In the year 2000 he received the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature.
Oscar Hijuelos was a teacher at Duke University before passing away in Manhattan where he fainted while playing tennis at 62 years old. That same tennis court was renamed after him.
In Thoughts Without Cigarettes, Oscar Hijuelos autobiography, he describes his writing style as “fluid prose, sonorous but more earthy than poetic, with a forthright American cadence.” You can find a bit of poetry in his material, mixed with easy-to-understand prose that almost feels like a conversation.
Oscar Hijuelos Books
1. Our House in the Last World (Nuestra casa en el fin del mundo)
This warm tale takes us into the intimacy of a Cuban family of immigrants residing in New York in 1943. They took with them the force and strength of the Caribbean island transforming it and their native language into passion and nostalgia.
Read this book to place yourself in the shoes of someone that is about to witness the imposing cultural shock, the struggles of an outsider while battling with the illness of the youngest one of the family. That same little one has to listen to tales of a life he didn’t live back in Cuba since he is an American-born child.
You can find little puzzle pieces of the Oscar Hijuelos family throughout the pages of this novel. The newest edition includes an introduction by the author, explaining the path towards writing this wonderful piece.
According to some reviews, when reading this immigrant experience “there is a Cuban guitarist softly strumming in the background,” and has some historical information that gives a sense of wholeness to the book.
The literary complexity of this book is moderate because it skips from one moment in time and space to another one.
Read this article about 6 Latin American Nobel Prize Winners in Literature!
2. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (Los reyes del mambo tocan canciones de amor)
Disclaimer: The descriptions in this book are for mature audiences only.
Two young musicians from Havana, Cuba arrive on the stages of New York with nothing but their instruments. The Castillo brothers work day and night in their songs until they become stars playing boleros, rumbas, mambos, cha-cha-chás, and more vibrant music genres. You will find that many years later, the writer tells you about the story once again—with nostalgia, passion, and affection.
The literary complexity of this book is moderate since it has more than one narrator, giving the story more than one point of view. Also, sometimes the reader gets information that none of the characters have.
3. The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien (Las catorce hermanas de Emilio Montez O’Brien)
Margarita is the oldest of fourteen sisters of the Irish photographer Nelson O’Brien and poetry enthusiast Cuban Mariela Montez. Finally, Emilio is born, the first son, and grows up in a very feminine household. The fourteen sisters become housekeepers, mothers, entertainers, and more gendered roles as expected. Margarita remembers their picturesque past, her love stories, and family tragedies as well as Emilio’s life going from the military to Hollywood and turning into a consecrated actor. This family saga bastes multiple life stories into one wonderful experience with teaching and entertaining moments.
Read this book if you want to immerse yourself in a world where being a girl is the standard and where every single part of day-to-day life has traces of a feminine aura. It is very interesting to live in this parallel universe from the eyes and experience of the oldest one (that lived through almost all the story) and the little one that is a boy. The literary complexity is moderate because it has a little bit of magical realism and gives a touch of surreality and lack of linearity in the story.
4. Empress of the Splendid Season (La emperatriz de mis sueños)
Lydia España is a Cuban immigrant that arrives in New York and has a bad life as a cleaning lady for wealthy families. But she is a very tenacious, perseverant person and her number one goal is to become part of that social status one day and live the American dream fully. Read this compelling, tender, and charming book by Oscar Hijuelos to find out if Lydia eventually gets to her dream and the cost she has to pay for it.
Read the Empress of the Splendid Season if you want to know the story of perseverance and resilience. Lydia is the perfect example of turning the other cheek, not out of submission but out of bravery and tenacity. Part of the charm of Oscar Hijuelos literature is the lack of linear narrative which makes this book one of moderate complexity.
5. Dark Dude
Harlem’s Rico Fuentes is a first-generation American of 15 years old. His parents and sister are all mulattos that come from Cuba unlike Rico who is white and blonde, he even has freckles. People from his neighborhood and the local school constantly harass him and call him pejorative names including “dark dude.” It is not just a term but something that can determine a person’s future, vision of oneself, and self-esteem. People around him try to strip him from the money they think he has but doesn’t, along with his dignity.
This book is for you if you are looking for a character on a quest to find—and lose and deny— his own identity and getting to understand and accept that there are some things you cannot leave behind. All this while in the tough teenage years, where identity and fitting in seem to be the main themes but are also the precious things no one really gets.
Oscar Hijuelos describes the settings and surroundings in detail making this piece moderate in terms of complexity.
Looking for more Hispanic authors? Here is a post about the Top 10 Most Remarkable Latin American Authors of All Time!
6. Beautiful Maria of My Soul (Bella María de mi alma)
Maria is the beautiful girl that broke the heart of Néstor Castillo, the inspiration that comes from The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Now, as a 60-year-old beauty that lives in Miami, she recognizes she will never forget Néstor. In this book, María is offering us a new, fresh perspective of what they lived together in Havana, Cuba. She carefully and affectionately recreates author Oscar Hijuelos’ contemporary classic.
If you are interested in knowing diverse perspectives of the same story you will enjoy this novel from the female point of view of the Mambo Kings. The moderate complexity of this book is because many subjects and writing styles intertwine to make the piece richer.
Learn More About Oscar Hijuelos and Other Hispanic Authors!
Enrich your Spanish learning experience by reading books by Oscar Hijuelos and other Hispanic authors! You will feel compelled to do research, ask and discuss which will help you to gain a critical view of the reading material.
Another powerful tool to learn a new language is to speak to native speakers. Here at HSA you can tailor your own Spanish package according to your interests and needs and start taking lessons from our friendly teachers from Guatemala. Become part of our 24,000+ active enrolled student community and trust our expertise and method as they have for over 10 years. Sign up for a free class and start improving your reading comprehension skills today!
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