Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What, if anything, is there distinctively Latino about the stories that Oscar Hijuelos tells?

“Men don’t have a clue about women, for the most part,” Hijuelos told an interviewer. How does his portrayal of female characters compare with his portrayal of male characters?

Cesar Castillo and Israel Levis are professional musicians, and particular pieces of music are crucial in the lives of other Hijuelos characters. How does the novelist use music to develop themes and portray character?

Famous historical figures, including Nikita Khrushchev, Desi Arnez, George Gershwin, and James Mason appear alongside fictional characters in Hijuelos’s novels. What is the effect?

In Empress of the Splendid Season, Lydia España keeps two small flags—one American and one Cuban— mounted atop her television set. What is the image and role of Cuba in Hijuelos’s novels?

“I’m a fairly melancholic person,” Hijuelos told an interviewer. How do his novels convey melancholy?

The Secrets of a Poor Man’s Life was Hijuelos’s working title for what became The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. How might that be an accurate description not only of that work but of other Hijuelos novels as well?