three reviews by Aleathia Drehmer

The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

This book is about two Cuban brothers who come to America in the time before Castro took over. When they came over it was not about “a better life”, but about new adventure and music and opportunity. These brothers were great musicians playing mambo, cha-cha-cha, boleros and any other form of Latin music of its time. We are talking 1940’s NYC Latin music scene. One brother is a macho….a man’s man, a ladies man and full of life and excitement. The other is a gallego which is reference to a man that would come from Spain, but also one with a great melancholy about him. So they were opposites.

This book is about the journey of Cuban music in NYC through the 1940’s to the 1960’s. It is about love and loss and great, heartbreaking longing. This story is filled with images of pastoral Cuba, of rich foods, and thick with Cuban terms and language that surprisingly does not take away from the book, because the author explains it all to you without detracting from the story. It is as if the brothers were telling you a tale of their lives. It is sensual with many scenes of lovemaking and the pure passion men and women have for each other without it being a trashy romance novel.

I found it to be enriching in Latin culture and I desired listening to the Afro-Cuban All Stars a lot while reading this book, because it felt good. I found myself wanting to eat rice and beans and thick pork chops and fried plantains. I wanted to dance about the room. I wanted to make passionate love to someone. I wanted to play the congas and sing at the top of my lungs. I wanted feel the sunshine on my face, but mostly, it made me long for my family. I want that feeling of having my clan together while eating and laughing and remembering the tales of our lives.

Sometimes it is hard to find a book with all of these things that is masterfully written so that the pages fly by until you have come to the end, weeping and clutching the book to your chest, wanting just a little bit more. This book takes you to another place and the joyousness of music and of life.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner

Wallace Stegner is by far one of my favorite authors in the world. This man can spin a yarn and detail the open prairie with his pen so meticulously that I always feel like I am there breathing in the air, seeing the expanse of the untouched sky, and feeling the breadth of the land. I love stories about pioneers. I always have, and I realize now why that is. I am a woman of hope. These stories about prairies, westward moving men and women all start with the seed of hope; some new life, new claim upon land that might establish them as citizens of this country…..this America. But none of us can ever really claim that. We are all foreigners to this land. In this time and space we have lost that spark of pure hope; that great longing for the original American dream.

This book took me a long time to read. I have many excuses and none of which I will validate. I have been lazy and there is no excuse for it. This book was not riveting or excessively adventure filled, but a slow progression of the lives and deaths of a family trying to mark their corner out. There is something magical about following this family on a journey that none of us could ever imagine in our wildest dreams. Maybe some of us have had similar lives as children and get to the place in our adult lives and look back in wonder as to how we survived as reasonably healthy adults. I know that I do this. I think of the alternate routes my life could have gone were it not for hope and for the understanding that I get in this life exactly what I need as it happens. We all do. It is the ability to open your eyes and see it, to acknowledge that the lessons are there to be learned. So many of us turn the blind eye and it leaves us miserable in the moment and jaded when looking back.

I read a quote in the wee hours of the morning, though seemingly having nothing to do with Wallace Stegner and his book, it is all together apparent to me now that it is. “Most people would rather be certain they’re miserable than risk being happy.” – Robert Anthony

This book is about risk and life and tough love. It is about loyalty to the family and death and the ability to see the truth of the matter. It is a long book with small print. It is challenging, but it is worth it to fall in love with the people and see a life chased after, but never caught.

The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor

This book I got on the cheap rack at Barnes and Noble one day and frankly, I didn’t know the author or anything about the story, but the cover was beautiful. It was five bucks. I thought, what the hell.

Inside, I found myself traveling to Ireland in a small town in County Cork. I am a sucker for Ireland and maybe that is because I am a sucker for the sea. I am not sure. This is a lovely story about the time right before World War II when Ireland began to get heated up. It is about a family torn apart from the loss of a child, or so they believe.

The parents leave for continental Europe and this child is found, and the entire book is the life of Lucy and that of her parents, oblivious to her being alive. It neatly tells the story of how one deals with the loss of a child and how one deals with the absence of parents. There are beautiful descriptions of landscape and the quirkiness of Lucy Gault. It is not uproarious in emotion, but tends to deal you its literary blows with a quiet steady hand. There is an unsettling feeling that you cannot quite name about the title character. She has a reticence about her that is moving.

It is just over 200 pages and worth the read for something pastoral and quiet and steadfast.

One Response

  1. […] Psesito has some passages, and more in Spanish that I can’t read. Aleathia Drehmer loved it; Kelly Cooper did not like it at all. Here is a history of mambo. And here is Roger Ebert’s […]

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