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A Simple Habana Melody: From When the World Was Goodby Oscar Hijuelos
Synopses & Reviews
Oscar Hijuelos skillfully evoked the excitement and passion of Cuban music in The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. So skillfully, in fact, that the novel went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. In Hijuelos's most recent novel, A Simple Habana Melody, music's ability to convey passion and summon old memories is once again a recurrent theme. However, unlike his five previous novels which predominantly explored the Cuban immigrant experience in America, A Simple Habana Melody tells the story of Israel Levis, whose extraordinary life begins and ends in Habana.
Levis is a composer and in 1928 writes a song, "Rosas Puras," or "Pretty Roses," for his unrequited love Rita Valladares. The song becomes the most popular rumba in the world. His fame catapults him to Europe, where his hedonistic lifestyle in Paris is cut short by the war as he becomes witness to one of humankind's darkest hours. Hijuelos, having recently turned fifty, says he wrote A Simple Habana Melody as a celebration of the music of his native country and the people who inspire it. This vivid and lyrical portrait of Cuba's past is tribute indeed — a glorious, sensual and moving novel. Georgie, Powells.com
It is 1947 and Israel Levis, a Cuban composer whose life had once been a dream of music, love and sadness, is returning to Habana, Cuba from Spain where he has just recovered from the physical and spiritual malaises resulting from his experiences in Paris — then Buchenwald — during the Nazi occupation of France. (A devout Catholic, Levis had been mistakenly identified as a Jew because of his name.)
Arriving back in Habana, Levis's mind is reeling with beautiful memories of his life before the war, a life of pleasure and excitement that he owes, in part, to an unrequited, nearly "chivalrous" romance with a certain Rita Valladares, a singer for whom Levis had written his most famous song, "Rosas Puras" or "Pretty Roses." This 1928 composition becomes the most famous rumba in the world; and it is the song, symbolic of the composer's love for Rita Valladares, that sets Levis' life in Europe in motion.
This is a love story — for art, family and country — as well as a portrait of Habana at the turn of the last century, when "the world was good." A Simple Habana Melody is a virtuoso performance from one of our most important writers.Performed by Jimmy Smits
"Hijuelos triumphs in capturing the sights and sounds of Habana at the edge of modernity." Publishers Weekly
"Hijuelos magically conveys the teeming excitement of musical Cuba, incorporates real characters such as Buster Keaton, George Gershwin, and Al Jolson, and deftly portrays Levis's sexual ambiguities...Powerfully evocative of the music and moods of the period, this novel is highly recommended as both psychological and "show biz" fiction." Library Journal
"Perhaps no other contemporary novelist has managed to sustain a melancholy mood more convincingly than Hijuelos does in this haunting story of a Cuban composer whose life is an agonizing mix of joy and sadness, creativity and repression....Like the most tender of ballads, this heartbreaking novel laments lost love while it helps us remember how love felt when we were young." Bill Ott, Booklist
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love" returns to the world of music with this novel about one man's passion for his art, his family, and his country. Unabridged.
About the Author
Oscar Hijuelos was born of Cuban parentage in New York City in 1951. He is a recipient of the Rome Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, among others. His five previous novels have been translated into twenty-five languages.
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