A Bildungsroman and Künstlerroman about an unhappy family of Cuban immigrants struggling in Spanish Harlem, Hijuelos’s first published novel culminates with Hector Santinio’s declaration of redemptive literary ambition: “I think that one day I would like to write a book, something that would so please my mother and my Pop, if he was still alive.” Our House in the Last World is just such a book, a text that, for the autobiographical Hector Santinio, as for his author Hijuelos, preserves and honors the tribulations of a working-class family struggling to succeed in a strange new land.
Letters from his sister in New York inspire Alejo Santinio with dreams of adventure and prosperity. In 1943, he and his wife Mercedes depart Holguín, their small hometown in Cuba’s Oriente Province. But the reality of life in Manhattan is much harsher than Alejo, forced to take a menial, low-paying job in a hotel, had imagined it. Alejo’s one transcendent moment in an otherwise dreary existence comes when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev steps into the hotel kitchen and is photographed beside him. A romanticized memory of their house in the last world—the lost world of pre-Castro Cuba—becomes a constant source of torment for Alejo and Mercedes in New York. But the two Santinio sons, Horacio and Hector, do not share their parents’ Hispanic associations. After contracting a serious illness during a visit to Cuba, Hector even comes...
(The entire section is 419 words.)