EMPRESS OF THE SPLENDID SEASON by Oscar Hijuelos

EMPRESS OF THE SPLENDID SEASON

KIRKUS REVIEW

Pulitzer-winner Hijuelos (Mr. Ives— Christmas, 1995, etc.) offers up a slow-moving but sometimes poignant slice-of-lifer about a Cuban-American family from the 1940s onward. The beautiful Lydia Espa§a was born in pre-Castro Cuba, a privileged child with a businessman father who was a model of small-town elegance—and also of a fierce rectitude that made him turn violently against his daughter when she came into her own sexuality and slept one night with a musician. Off she’s sent, alone, to New York City, where at first she supports herself as a seamstress—until one night at a party in 1949 she meets her future husband, the stylish Raul, who’s working there as a waiter. Though he’s ten years her senior, the love is real, marriage follows, and so do two children, Alicia and Rico. Happiness enough blesses the family—until Raul collapses one day on a restaurant floor amid a clatter of dishes and trays, never again to be free of a debilitatingly weak heart that will keep him from returning to his job—with the result that Lydia must be the breadwinner, doing so as that lowliest of workers, the cleaning lady. Years and then decades pass, a touch of Horatio Alger visits the book as an East Side advertising man Lydia cleans for proves wildly benevolent, and there are touches, too, of authorial tendentiousness when Hijuelos lets his theme of poverty versus wealth break through his novel’s real tone (—earning in a week . . . what a chichi Soho artist will piss away on a lunch with friends at the Four Seasons . . . —). Most of the time, though, as usual, the author shows himself one of our most affectionate chroniclers of the city’s less favored neighborhoods as the ’60s come and go, then the ’70s, and as the Espa§a family passes—with dignity intact—through time, life, work, sorrow, and love. Sturdy truths and honest humanity in another look at life † la Hijuelos. (Literary Guild selection; author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-017570-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998




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