Oscar Hijuelos, Giant of Cuban-American Literature, Is Dead at 62

Categories: El Jefe

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Oscar Hijuelos was decidedly not Cuban. And he was certainly not a Miamian. Yet the 62-year-old author, who died Saturday in Manhattan, cast perhaps a longer literary shadow over the Magic City than any other 20th Century man of letters,

His Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, was the immigrant version of Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion or Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men -- a book about two men who in some ways lived through one another while confronting difficult experiences.

The book, of course, made history. It described two musician brothers who appear at one point on the I Love Lucy show. They have a complicated relationship with love, their music, and their lives as immigrants.

Hijuelos, who was born in New York and made a hit at the Miami International Book Fair in its early days, was the first Hispanic writer to win a Pulitzer in fiction. His work inspired other great immigrant novelists like Cristina Garcia and Junot Diaz. It also was the basis for a movie with Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas.

Like scores of Cuban Americans -- particularly in Miami -- Hijuelos constantly faced the question of whether he was Cuban or American. Though the author considered himself more American, writer Carlos Alberto Montaner maintains that he "wrote Cuban literature in English."

In any case, an outtake from the movie is worth a second a look.

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