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 Melod
y, 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
Synopses & Reviews
It is 1947, and Israel Levis, a Cuban composer whose life had once been a dream of music, love, and sadness, returns to Cuba after being mistakenly imprisoned during the Nazi occupation of France.
When Levis arrives back in Habana, his mind returns to an unrequited romance with the alluring Rita Valladares, a singer for whom Levis had written his most famous song, "Rosas Puras." This 1928 composition became the most famous rumba in the world and changed American and European tastes in music and dance forever.
A love story—of art, family, and country—A Simple Habana Melody is a virtuoso performance from one of our most important writers.
"Pulitzer-winner Hijuelos is at his massively engaging best. A masterpiece of history, music, wonder, and sorrow. Riveting." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[A] haunting story....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 (Starred Review)
"While there is a faintly contrived air about Levis's experience of the Holocaust, Hijuelos triumphs in capturing the sights and sounds of Habana at the edge of modernity." Publishers Weekly
"[A]n engaging, lyrical portrait....And it is arguably Hijuelos' most focused effort since the stunning Mambo Kings....[I]ts bittersweet strains will resonate long after the last page is turned." Allan Turner, The Houston Chronicle
"[A] story so achingly beautiful, so full of passion, regret and the power of memory, it is deserving of the term masterpiece....An exceptional life, elegantly told by an artist of exceptional gifts." Sam Harrison, BookPage
"[M]any of Hijuelos' gifts are in evidence...but a focus on remembrance of things long past ends up dragging the book down....[W]ritten in ravishing prose, but the story skirts the most compelling details of its subject's life... (Grade: B)" Jenny Shank, Rocky Mountain News
"Powerfully evocative of the music and moods of the period, this novel is highly recommended as both psychological and 'show biz' fiction." Library Journal
At the request of his favorite entertainer (and secret love of his life), Rita Valladares, Israel Levis quickly writes the catchy tune "Rosas Puras," for her to perform on her latest tour. While the song is turned into a musical, a movie starring Fred Astaire, and performed by famous singers and orchestras worldwide, Israel grows to despise this "simple Havana melody," and would prefer to be known for his more serious compositions.
Israel's fame takes him to the Paris of the 1930s and 40s, where the clubs are swinging, the brothels are abundant, and the threat of Hitler looms on the horizon. When the Nazis take over France, Israel stays, knowing that he is a good Catholic. Yet because of his name, he is mistaken for a Jew, and sent to Buchenwald.
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.
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.
Oscar Hijuelos nació de padres cubanos en Nueva York en 1951. Sus otras novelas incluyen Mr. Ives' Christmas, The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien, Our House in the Last World y A Simple Havana Melody (Una Sencilla Melodía Habanera). Vive en Nueva York.