top of page

Pulitzer Book Club Inclusion Guide


"The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love" by Oscar Hijuelos



• Wang opens bridal boutique
• ADA provides diability access
• Temple Grandin, autistic hero, invents humane cattle restraints
• Native American Languages Act protects native languages



Oscar Hijuelos, son of Cuban immigrants, was born in NYC and is first Hispanic writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. NY Federal Court dismissed a historic defamation suit brought by Gloria Parker, mentioned in one sentence of “Mambo Kings.”


Featured Reader Wanted!

Featured Reader


Cuban American musician performs, drinks, womanizes, mournes in NYC


Cesar and Nestor Castillo meet Lucy and perform with Desi on “I Love Lucy.”


An unsavory life story provides a look at the world of Cuban musicians in NYC, especially during the 1950s, and women in their alcoholic, sexual, food-requiring orbit. Examination of Cuban politics does not loom large but the struggles of women and people with addictions do.


The 408 pages are an orgy of alcohol, sex, women treated like hell, food and music.


Perpetuate good. Tap your talent, teach your skill. Recognize and find a path beyond ugliness in your past. Your father’s beatings do not make a life of serial womanizing OK.


Cuban immigrants living with Cuban Americans. Serial womanizing explained by the void of a no love from father. Rape. Women trapped by poverty, lack of education. Skin-tone discrimination. Conflict between Cubans and Puerto Ricans.


Excessive quantities of pork chops, rice and beans, plantains, and yuca. Think carefully before you go hard on salt, lemon and garlic. Finish with quivering flan that reminds you of thighs. Serve rum that you stole from your father and put in a jar.


“Right then and there she saw that her father was a fabulous and graceful dancer, and that this dancing seemed to offer him release from his pain.”


Plaster the walls of an apartment with pictures of Desi Arnaz, Cugat, Mamba musicians, saints, and Jesus with a fiery heart. Put a Cuban flag on the television and dedicate a cabinet to Nestor. Or set up a last call room at Hotel Splendour: a case of whiskey, stomach pills, cigarettes, records (not digital music), porn, and family photographs. Cuban music – “in the name of mamba, rumba, and the cha-cha-cha” -- is a must; dancing optional. Dressing the part ill-advised.


Compare the lives and challenges of women who immigrated to their life in Cuba.
How can society break the cycle of abusive fathers and sons?
How and why did native New Yorkers respond to Spanish speakers and the way Cuban entertainers dressed?
How and why do women and young people respond to Cesar? How did that change over the years?
Which was mentioned more, Cesar’s giant pinga or his generous spending? Why?
How did Nestor and Cesar deal with what was missing in their lives?
What types of jobs were available to Cuban Americans in the 1950s? Now?
Is ability to speak English still an employment screening criterion?
What did you learn about Batista, Fidel through this novel?


Experience Cuban culture in NYC. Eat, take dance lessons, watch dancers, see Cuban films and art. Time your visit around Ruedathon and Cuba Festival (think dance version of NYC Marathon) or the Havana Film Festival.


1992 “The Mambo Kings”, 1951-1957 “I Love Lucy”


1983 “Our House in the Last World,” a how-to-succeed novel like “Forward America!”

bottom of page