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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Empress of the Splendid Season

1. How does Lydia manage to hold on to her identity as a "proper girl from a good family" even as she endures a life of cleaning other people's toilets? What enables her to walk down Harlem's streets with so much pride that the neighborhood kids call her "Queenie" ?

2. What is Lydia's relationship to Cuba? Though not exactly a political exile, she shares many of the feelings of her Cuban neighbors. What measures does she take to retain her Cuban identity? What are the steps she takes to assimilate in her new country?

3. How does Lydia's relationship with her son Rico change as he grows from adoring child to rebellious teenager to successful adult? What are some of the struggles that Lydia faces in trying to maintain a cohesive family? How might these struggles be applicable to all immigrant and first-generation Americans?

4. Lydia believes she has found a kindred spirit in Mr. Osprey and fantasizes about an adulterous affair. What is it that draws her to him, and what is it that restrains her from acting upon her amorous impulses?

5. Both Alicia and Rico are caught committing crimes. In both instances, Lydia's connections save her children from dire legal consequences. But what price do the children pay in terms of their mother's trust and affection? What are the long-term effects of their youthful indiscretions?

6. What has Lydia gained, and what has she lost, in her journey from being "the Empress of the Splendid Season," to becoming Lydia, the Spanish cleaning woman?

Empress of the Splendid Season
by Oscar Hijuelos

  • Publication Date: January 5, 2000
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060928700
  • ISBN-13: 9780060928704