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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

1. Why do you think Hijuelos would endow Cesar with such exaggerated sexuality? Why does he stretch the limits of believability? Is he satirizing or celebrating traditional Latino machismo?

2. What role does the I Love Lucy show play in the lives of the Castillo brothers? What is the effect of its frequent recurrence throughout the novel? Does the emotional resonance of the episode change over the course of the novel? How so?

3. The novel appears to be a series of temporally disconnected vignettes remembered by a dying Cesar Castillo. And yet there are times when the novel "loses" the sense that the events it is portraying are Cesar's memories. Why do you think Hijuelos employs such a loose structure for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love? Does the lack of a traditional plot structure serve the subject matter? How so? What insights are provided into Cesar's character by the use of such a non-linear structure?

4. What do the two brothers sacrifice by coming to America? What have they each left behind in Cuba? What role do memories of their homeland play in their lives in America? Which brother is best able to leave their past behind? Which brother best assimilates in the U.S.?

5. What is each of the brothers' relationship to the American dream? Do they achieve it? To what degree? How does the American dream fail them? What does the pamphlet, Forward America, mean to Nestor?

6. Is Nestor a good father? Is Cesar? What ideas of fatherhood were passed down to the brothers from their father? How would you characterize their relationship to their father?

7. Do you think The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love is a tale specific to Cuban immigrants, or is it applicable to all immigrants? Or to all Americans of that generation? What aspects of the story transcend the Cuban immigrant experience? Which are unique to Cuban Americans?

8. What is the role of women in Cesar's life? Why does he have sex with so many? Does he love any of his sexual partners? Is Lydia an exception? Why does she seem to dominate his memories? Why doesn't Cesar ever make love to Delores?

9. Throughout the novel are occasional footnotes with historical details. Who is the voice of these footnotes? Hijuelos? Cesar? Eugenio? How did the footnotes affect your reading of the novel? Why do you think Hijuelos employs this device?

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
by Oscar Hijuelos

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2000
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060955457
  • ISBN-13: 9780060955458