Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Manhattan. Borough of New York City in which most of the novel takes place within an upper West Side apartment building. From Cuba, New York City beckons with opportunity, a springboard for “making it” before moving on to settle elsewhere or returning to the island. The self-imposed exile of the adventurous or carefree Cubans of the 1940’s was quite different from that of the political refugees several decades later.

After their spending money dwindles, the Santinios—unskilled and speaking no English—discover the harsh reality of surviving in the big city. The kitchen of the luxury hotel in which Alejo works as a cook—a space and job generally reserved for women in Cuba’s patriarchal culture—is a microcosm of the downtrodden of the city and epitomizes Alejo’s failure to become a man of distinction. Similar to the city, the hotel, a large enterprise, offers opportunities that Alejo passes up.

The Santinios’ dilapidated apartment mirrors a dysfunctional family literally falling apart. In the novel, New York can be equated with a place of violence—in the streets, in the home. Ironically, although the Santinios live near “the University,” presumably Columbia University, an Ivy League institution synonymous with upward mobility, a higher education is not accessible to them or their children.


*Holguín (ol-GEEN). Picturesque Cuban city of rolling hills in the island’s central valley; a fertile region for agriculture and diverse commerce often called Cuba’s granary. The novel opens with the family history of Mercedes Sorrea and Alejo Santinio, both of whom come from a lineage of successful Spanish immigrants and...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Augenbraum, Harold, and Ilan Stavans, eds. Growing up Latino: Memoirs and Stories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. This collection of Latino fiction and nonfiction, discusses the coming-of-age and memoir literary tradition which helps to understand Hijuelos’ works; a selection from his second novel is included.

Fein, Esther B. “Oscar Hijuelos’s Unease, Wordly and Otherwise.” The New York Times (April 1, 1993): 19. Excellent article about Hijuelos, his life and works, including his personal observations. Confirms the autobiographical nature of his first novel.

Foster, David William. Handbook of Latin American Literature. New York: Garland, 1992. Includes Latino writing in America. Discusses Hijuelos’ works in the context of the cultural history and cultural contributions of Cuban Americans in the United States.

Kanellos, Nicolás. Biographical Dictionary of Hispanic Literature in the United States. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1989. Each entry provides a biography, the literary genres, themes and analyses of the works by each author, and a bibliography. Hijuelos’ novel is discussed for its treatment of Cuban assimilation in America.

Perez Firmat, Gustavo. Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. Focuses on Cuban American performers and writers. Hijuelos is presented as a cultural figure whose work exemplifies a bilingual, bicultural identity in search of a collective identity.