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Empress of the Splendid Season
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When Raul Espana falls ill, his wife Lydia, who had enjoyed a life of luxury as the mayor's daughter in Cuba, finds herself cleaning the apartments of rich New Yorkers. Among her employers is Mr Osprey, a paragon of glamour and money who becomes involved in the lives of Lydia and her children.
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As in The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Hijuelos imagines the life of a humble Cuban-American from the late '40s to the present. Latin sensuality turns to Yankee drudgery when Lydia Espanà the spoiled daughter of a small-town Cuban alcalde, is banished from her home in 1947 for staying out till dawn after a dance. Romantic and uneducated, she moves to New York, where marries, and becomes a cleaning woman to keep her sick husband (a handsome waiter with refined manners) and two children from the brink of poverty. Lydia worries and dotes in the manner of a quintessential immigrant mother trying to maintain respectability and make ends meet. While the drab black-and-white of her daily life runs its course, a rich Technicolor fantasy of time-before plays through her head. In memory, Lydia is again the Empress of the Splendid Season, beautiful enough to catch the eye of a Hollywood star. Depicting Spanish Harlem with relentless realism, Hijuelos penetrates the lives behind the humble tenements and massive university buildings. With poignancy, he captures the lonely fear of Lydia's son as he makes his way up the ladder of American success, the apex of which is perhaps not as enviable as he and Lydia assume. Familiar Hijuelos elements‘Latin music, introspective men, touches of magic realism in quietly powerful prose‘render here a tender and undramatic portrait of a complex woman and her culture. Agent, Harriet Wasserman. Literary Guild selection. (Feb.)

Lydia Espaa begins life as the daughter of well-to-do parents in Cuba before the rule of Castro. With a father who is unable to forgive the mistakes of a young woman, she emigrates to New York City in the late 1940s. She marries a working-class Cuban, becomes a housewife, and begins to raise a family. But when her husband suffers a heart attack, she is forced to become the breadwinner, working as a cleaning lady for families with much better circumstances than her own. During the course of her working life she sees cultural conflicts, generational gaps, the changing status of women, and the decline of traditional values. She endures by maintaining her pride and self-assurance. Although confined to the Cuban experience, this story, from the author of The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez OBrien (Audio Reviews, LJ 6/1/93), is one to which immigrant and first-generation American women who grew up in the mid-20th century can relate. With authentic accents, reader Rita Moreno gives life to the characters and conveys the intensity and range of their feelings. Highly recommended for fiction collections.Catherine Swenson, Norwich Univ. Lib., Northfield, VT

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