- BUREAU of ARTS and CULTURE Magazine San Francisco [ Tap here for Most Recent FREE MAGAZINE EDITIONS]
- SPECIAL MUSIC EDITION 2017
- LITERARY 2016 EDITION
- SPRING 2016
- SUMMER 2015 EDITION
- ASIAN EDITION 2015
- LITERARY SPRING EDITION 2015
- FALL EDITION 2014
- WINTER EDITION 2014
- BUREAU EDITORIAL
- BUREAU ICON ESSAYS
- NEW FICTION
- BUREAU NEWS
- SUBMIT BAY AREA EVENTS
- WRITER J. A. TRILIEGI
Saturday, October 19, 2013
OSCAR HIJUELOS : An Appreciation / The Pulitzer prize winning Author of Mambo Kings Sings Songs of Love has completed his last Conga Solo / By Joshua A. TRILIEGI
OSCAR HIJUELOS : An Appreciation
The Pulitzer prize winning Author of
Mambo Kings Sings Songs of Love
has completed his last Conga Solo
By Joshua A. TRILIEGI
The day that I first came across a copy of Oscar Hijuelos 's
Novel " Mambo King's Sing Song's of Love " was the day I
had decided that I wanted to be a novelist. I had published
poems, written songs, created short stories and had a
screenplay considered as a finalist at the Sundance Writers
workshop. I had never written a novel, but upon reading
Mambo Kings, there was a passion, an honesty, a raw
intensity that described a world, an experience, a view
into a private and personal experience that, to me, was
perfect. It was as if his story about latin jazz musicians
from Cuba, spoke directly to me. It said, this is a world
of men and women , music and silence, love and hate ,
loss and gain, pain and pleasure, rejection and acceptance,
power and peasants, talent and ownership, life and death.
I changed the direction of my entire life because of Oscar
Hijuelos. While working comfortably as an artist, furniture
designer, interior designer and sometime art department
assistant for film, I left it all behind and moved to Milwaukee
Wisconsin to research my own novel based on real life events
in my own family heritage. I had been conducting interviews
with family members for over a decade, but until I had found
Mambo Kings, I had no idea ' how ' to go about compiling,
expressing and telling the stories I was being told. Mr Hijuelos'
broad, colorful, expansive and passionate storytelling style
became a road map for me. I must have read and re read
his novel several times a year for several years. Whenever,
I got stuck, lost inspiration or needed that extra boost, it
always brought me back into the fold.
In Nineteen Ninety-nine, while living in and researching the
city of Milwaukee and the Italian immigrant experience,
Mr Hijuelos was being interviewed on national public radio.
I called into the show and we spoke about his book and how
it had inspired me. I was elated to speak publicly to one of
my mentors. The show moderator asked me what it was that
I liked about Mr Hijuelos' work and I tried my best to describe
it. Mr Hijuelos, upon hearing that I too had a story in current
development, wanted to know what it was that made my own
story so special and we talked at length about our families.
It was a pinnacle moment for me and I recorded it for future
posterity. Now, sadly, we have lost Oscar Hijuelos to the other
world. The world where people go when they leave this one.
In the Mambo Kings novel, the loss and death of a brother
stings the life of another, leaving a giant absence, where
there once was partnership, friendship, collaboration, union.
For an entire page and a half, Oscar describes a drum solo
that precedes the death of his character's heart beat ending.
It is a fabulous description of a crucial moment in a man's
life that is indulgent, detailed, imaginative and glorious.
Mr Hijuelos' s prose style is so in tune with his culture, that
of the cuban immigrant experience: the food, the music,
the fashion, the passion, the way of talking, walking, thinking.
His sentences are way beyond what writing school teachers
would describe as ' run - ons '. He breaks all the rules and it
works. Like a drum solo that goes on and on and on, he had
a way of keeping us on the dance floor late into the night.
I would often stay up late into the early hours reading the
Mambo Kings. I am still working on my novel about the
early italian immigrants of the mid west and am still in
debt to Mr Hijuelos. He would have been the perfect author
to provide the proverbial jacket cover commentary. Am I
sad that he is gone from this world ? No. Why not ? Well,
when a man reaches his goals, stretches beyond his wildest
imagination and achieves a certain level of professionalism,
we can only know that through that expression, that work,
that craft, that art, that, all is well, in this world and the next.
Mr Hijuelos went on to write about other situations, but for
me and for many, his masterpiece, with which he received
a Pulitzer prize in the early Nineteen - Eighties, was absolute.
It describes the life of Cubans, the life of musicians, the inner
lives of men, passion and growing old in such a way that it
is a living document of a time and a place. That is what a
writer needs to do: tell it to us in a way that we can see,
hear, feel, taste, smell, touch. Take us there, bring us back,
help us understand where you are and get us to join you there.
Mr Hijuelos and the Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love is indeed
a classic novel that achieve's all of this and more. His style is
detailed, abundant and even indulgent, as if he is sitting at the
table and can't help but heap upon his plate more of the great
cuban food and rum, or play the album one more time or tell
the story of a long lost love just one more time. It is a painful
story of leaving those you love behind you, to, ' Make it ' in
America. The price we pay for love, success, expression. An
aching world of yearning for possibilities in the big city and
finding that the politics of success are just as important as
the talent it takes to get you there. There is a major motion
picture that hints at the characters & may help to familiarize
the situations, but it should lead you directly to the prose.
I recently interviewed Miles Perlich, a radio host and aficionado
of latin jazz and couldn't help but mention Oscar Hijuelos and
Mambo Kings during the interview, as it is a great reference to
the period, the art, the world of latin jazz. If you have not read
Mambo Kings, put it on your list. Mr Hijuelos's employment of
the asterisk is used so often and so indulgently, that it probably
surprised his publishers and his readers. Not unlike the way that
Cubans, in a heated conversation, will often digress into an
explanation of a term, an idea or a phrase. The asterisk does
just that, with a side story peperred here and there throughout.
I found the device to be clever, funny and spot-on regarding
the immigrant experience, where, just about every cultural
detail needs a bit of explaining to whoever is listening.
I have learned directly from my contemporary mentors in
literature: Raymond Carver for honesty, Richard Russo for
overall structure, Joyce Carol Oates for descriptive detail,
Jack Kerouac for spiritual inspiration, George Sand for a
sort of defiance, Hunter S. Thompson for insanity, Sherman
Alexie for honing heritage, Jane Hamilton for painful portraiture,
Charles Bukowski for simplicity, Alice Walker for patient plotting,
but no one artist has taught me more about passion on the
page, than Mr. Hijuelos & Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love.
As a writer, as a reader, I can honestly say that I love the
afore mentioned writers. There is a long list of performers,
writers, directors, artists, architects, photographers and
philosophers that I could compose, but these are the writers
that come to mind. While recently creating a new novel, by
simply writing a chapter a day for three weeks straight and
publishing each chapter, each day, these were the writers
that came to mind. The project is entitled, " They Call it
The City of Angels ". I owe a simple thank you to them all.
As for my longterm project, inspired by Mr Hijuelos, that
is an altogether different type of work and indeed there will
be a thank you printed somewhere within the pages of its
publication. Until then, Thank You Oscar Hijuelos. Thank You.
Joshua Triliegi for
BUREAU of Arts and Culture Magazine