Be warned: If you can’t abide an abundance of graphic sex scenes, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! Otherwise, go right ahead. This novel by Oscar Hijuelos is a companion piece to his 1990 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.
Beautiful Maria of My Soul tells the story of Nestor Castillo’s great, lost love Maria Garcia y Cifuentes. In 1947, at the age of seventeen, Maria leaves her small, poor, farming village in the west of Cuba for Havana. She is poor and illiterate, but stunningly beautiful and ambitious. She mourns the deaths of her sister, Teresita, and her mother. Her papito has taken a new wife, and Maria feels out of place in her own home.
Upon her arrival in Havana, Maria finds a room in a cheap boarding house. She eventually finds work as a dancer in one of Havana’s second-rate night clubs. She meets Ignacio, a small-time gangster who takes her as his mistress. She also meets Nestor, a musician with whom she conducts a steamy love affair. It is after the affair ends that Nestor begins composing The Mambo Kings most famous song, “Beautiful Maria of My Soul.”
In the wake of the Cuban Revolution, Maria and her young daughter,Teresa, make their way to Miami. Starting a new life with no money and no knowledge of English, Maria makes a home for Teresa and a life for herself in America.
The parts of this novel that I enjoyed the most were about daily life in pre-Castro Havana. Hijuelos is the son of Cuban immigrants and there seems to be great nostalgia for their lost life. I don’t consider myself prudish, the sex scenes and constant descriptions of body parts is a bit much.
Many thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers program for sending me this book.
To be published in hardcover-Hyperion Books-June 2010