A sequel to The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989) that sings with the sweet sensuality of its predecessor.
It has been two decades since Hijuelos made his popular breakthrough with The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel about a band of Cuban émigrés whose appearance on I Love Lucy turned a lovesick bolero into a minor classic. That song was titled “Beautiful María of My Soul,” and here the novelist returns to tell the story of María, to render her as flesh and blood as well as exotic (and erotic) inspiration. Yes, she remains “the most dazzling woman in Cuba,” one whose beauty inspires rapture in every man who encounters her, including the author: “If that mirror were a man, it would have been salivating; if it were a carpet it would have taken flight; if it had been a pile of wood it would have burst into flame, so lovely was María.” Yet such beauty is bittersweet, for this is a woman who knows that her fate depends upon it and that inevitably it will fade. There is music in her romance with Nestor Castillo, the shy but handsome trumpeter who will spend years composing the song that pays tribute to her. Each may be the other’s true love, but life has other designs, as the novel shows how the beautiful María chooses her destiny, rebels against it and makes peace with it. The prose combines the simplicity of a folk tale with the lyricism of a romantic balladeer and the depth of a philosopher, as it encompasses what María considers “her holy trinity: God, love, and death.” Amid the political undercurrent of revolution in Cuba and with a recognition of the racial complexities of America, María finds a new life in Miami, where she raises a daughter whose perspective within the novel ultimately prevails. The result is a sequel that can be relished independently of the first volume while harmonizing with it.
More than worth the wait.