Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Oscar Hijuelos, one of two children of Pascual Hijuelos, a hotel employee, and Magdalena Torrens Hijuelos, a homemaker, was born in New York City on August 24, 1951. Both his parents had immigrated to the United States in the 1940’s from Cuba’s Oriente Province. Hijuelos grew up in Manhattan and attended a Catholic elementary school and a public high school. Throughout his adolescence, he played in bands with other Latino, mostly Puerto Rican, musicians. Hijuelos received both his B.A., in Asian history in 1975, and his M.A., in English in 1976, from City College of the City University of New York.
After graduation, he supported himself with odd jobs. An amateur archaeologist, he traveled widely and lived in Italy for a few years. In 1985, Hijuelos was awarded both a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rome Fellowship of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. His first book, the largely autobiographical Our House in the Last World (1983), which he began writing while working for an advertising agency, earned him $6,400. His second, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989), won him fame, fortune, and a Pulitzer Prize in fiction, the first given to a Latino author. The popular novel was also nominated for the National Book Award and for the annual fiction prize of...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
While Nestor and Cesar Castillo gaze forever from fictive footage of the I Love Lucy show, Alejo Santinio lives on beside Nikita Khrushchev in a snapshot of the two, and the O’Brien sisters and brother are also apprehended through a lens. For Hijuelos, memory is photographic, if imperfect, and his storytelling is inspired by and analogous to Nicéphore Niépce’s dream of retaining traces of light—and life—on paper. In rich, resonant English prose, the novels of Oscar Hijuelos provide a moving gallery of the ambitions and frustrations of Cuban Americans, Cubans, and other individuals.
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Oscar Hijuelos’s family hailed from the Oriente province of Cuba, home of entertainer Desi Arnaz and Cuban dictators Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar and Fidel Castro—wild roots for the New York-born, iconoclastic author. At age four, Oscar and his mother Magdalena visited Cuba, and upon their return he developed nephritis, a critical-stage kidney inflammation. Bedridden, Oscar lingered in a children’s hospital for two long years. This separation from family and language removed Oscar from Hispanic connections; the theme of separation would later saturate his novels.
Oscar’s father Pascual drank heavily, leaving Magdalena to raise her children in a rough, lower-class neighborhood of New York. Hijuelos has expressed sadness about his youth, in which most fathers he knew were drunk, limousines came only for funerals, and “the working class hate[d] everyone else.” The area where he played was caught between the affluence of the Columbia University campus and the habitat of muggers, thieves, and junkies of Morningside Park. Hijuelos hid from this hell by reading, watching television, and observing the traits of his family, as a partially sober father arose to go to his job as a cook at the Biltmore Hotel each day. Affection flooded the household, even with the dysfunction of poverty and neighborhood chaos. Forced to speak English outside his home, Hijuelos easily abandoned his Cuban tongue, although his parents expected Spanish discourse in the home....
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Oscar Hijuelos’ family came from the Oriente province of Cuba. Hijuelos was reared amid two divergent worlds: that of Columbia University, teeming with scholars, and that of Morningside Park, overflowing with drug addicts and muggers. At age four, Hijuelos and his mother visited Cuba, and upon his return, he succumbed to nephritis. Bedridden, Hijuelos lingered in a hospital for two years. The theme of separation and isolation, especially from family, saturates Hijuelos’ novels. After receiving his master’s degree in 1976 from the City University of New York, Hijuelos moved to within a few blocks of his childhood home to begin his author’s life, supported by a menial job in an advertising agency.
Our House in the Last World is a portrait of his family’s exodus from Cuba. The work recalls Hijuelos’ family relationships; he hated and loved his alcoholic father, and he misunderstood and miscommunicated with his mother. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love also recalls Hijuelos’ family life. One of Hijuelos’ uncles had been a musician with Xavier Cougat. The elevator operator in Hijuelos’ building played music. Hijuelos jumbled these two characters into Cesar Castillo. Cesar and his brother Nestor reach the highest point in their lives when the Mambo Kings appear on the I Love Lucy television show. Later, the brothers are separated.
In The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien, Hijuelos addresses issues of cross-cultural identity with the connection of Cuban and Irish families in a marriage. In Mr. Ives’ Christmas, Hijuelos examines father-son relationships from the father’s perspective. Mr. Ives seeks penance and peace after the disaster of his son’s murder.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Oscar Hijuelos (ee-WAYL-ohs) is widely regarded as a successful Latino writer who has moved Latino cultural expression from the margins to the center of mainstream recognition. He was born to immigrant Cuban parents in the Spanish Harlem section of New York City. In his childhood, he witnessed the ordeals of his family in exile, and he suffered the turmoils of growing up Hispanic in the United States.
Hijuelos’s father, Pascual, who worked as a dishwasher and a cook, died when Hijuelos was a teenager; his mother, Magdalena, was a homemaker who yearned to write poetry. His first novel, Our House in the Last World, published in 1983, is dedicated to them. This autobiographical work illustrates immigrant experiences similar to those lived by his family. The protagonists attach themselves to memories of a privileged life in Cuba while struggling to achieve success in the United States as members of an underprivileged ethnic minority. The isolation imposed by a different culture and language leads to feelings of alienation and powerlessness and often to violence and death.
The visit of Hijuelos to Cuba when he was three years old is portrayed in the novel. After returning from the sunny and warm island, the young protagonists, Héctor and his brother, encounter the cold reality of the urban world in New York. They are ridiculed by other children for being Hispanic; at the same time they are called “Whitey” or “Pinky” because of their light skin. The concept of being “Cuban” is questioned when other Hispanics consider them “American.” Like his characters, Hijuelos grew up with a sense of marginality and with a need to establish an identity within the two cultures. The use of Spanish words in the novel reflects bilingual and bicultural influences. His work becomes an expression of self-affirmation and the articulation of identity. Nostalgia for Cuba is a source of inspiration for poetic creation.
Ghosts appear in the novel, in an imagined house which represents memory. The writing of recollections and remembrances constitutes a form of survival. Like his protagonist Héctor, the author finished college; his efforts were rewarded when he received bachelor of arts and master’s degrees from City College of New York. The novel won Hijuelos the Rome Prize for...
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