Cesar Castillo (SEH-sahr kahs-TEE-yoh), the novel’s protagonist, born and reared in a poor family in Oriente, the eastern section of Cuba. During his childhood, Cesar suffers the violence of his abusive father. In Oriente, Cesar marries Luisa, with whom he has a daughter, Mariela. Their marriage is rather unstable, and after several separations, Cesar finally leaves Luisa permanently and goes to Havana. In 1949, Cesar decides to immigrate to New York City with his brother, Nestor, in the hope of succeeding as a musician. Once in the United States, Cesar and Nestor form the Mambo Kings, an orchestra that enjoys moderate success in dance halls and theaters. Cesar’s greatest accomplishment in show business is his appearance on an episode of I Love Lucy in 1955. Soon after, however, Nestor is killed in a car accident. This event changes Cesar’s personality; he is transformed from an apparently happy fellow into a sad, alcoholic man who tries to become more like his late brother. As Cesar becomes older and less attractive, his already low self-esteem (only temporarily bolstered by his extreme good looks) begins to worsen, and his life sinks into a series of escapes that finally ends in a melancholic remembrance of his past experiences.
Nestor Castillo, the younger of the two Castillo brothers. He spends most of his...
(The entire section is 572 words.)