Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review: Thoughts Without Cigarettes

Media Type: Book
Title: Thoughts Without Cigarettes
Author: Oscar Hijuelos
Publisher: Gotham
Pages: Hardcover; 384
Release Date: June 2, 2011
Source: TLC Book Tours
Genre: Memoir

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers looking for an honest look at this author's life, peppered with great stories.

Add it on: Goodreads / Shelfari / Librarything / Amazon / B&N
Oscar Hijuelos has enchanted readers with vibrant characters who hunger for success, love, and self-acceptance. In his first work of nonfiction, Hijuelos writes from the heart about the people and places that inspired his international bestselling novels.

Born in Manhattan's Morningside Heights to Cuban immigrants in 1951, Hijuelos introduces readers to the colorful circumstances of his upbringing. The son of a Cuban hotel worker and exuberant poetry- writing mother, his story, played out against the backdrop of an often prejudiced working-class neighborhood, takes on an even richer dimension when his relationship to his family and culture changes forever. During a sojourn in pre-Castro Cuba with his mother, he catches a disease that sends him into a Dickensian home for terminally ill children. The yearlong stay estranges him from the very language and people he had so loved.

With a cast of characters whose stories are both funny and tragic,Thoughts Without Cigarettes follows Hijuelos's subsequent quest for his true identity into adulthood, through college and beyond-a mystery whose resolution he eventually discovers hidden away in the trappings of his fiction, and which finds its most glorious expression in his best-known book, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Illuminating the most dazzling scenes from his novels, Thoughts Without Cigarettes reveals the true stories and indelible memories that shaped a literary genius.

What Thoughts Without Cigarettes genuinely reminded me of was my childhood. Oscar Hijuelos has a very easy writing style that borders on conversation. I was taken back to the days where my grandfather used to sit around and tell stories about when he was young. Always interesting, sometimes a bit confusing, and maybe a little rambling, the stories were a part of who he was. While reading this I felt like I was transported back to that time. Except this time it was Oscar Hijuelos sitting there and sharing his history with me, and I was definitely paying attention.

I'm not a huge reader of memoirs to be honest. If I choose one, it has to hold my attention and to do that it has to be well-written. Hijuelos has a very straight, and frank writing style. Fans of memoirs will appreciate the confessional style with which he bears his soul to the reader. However this can also be a little confusing at times. There were paragraphs that I was presented with that were just one extremely long run on sentence. Also, it was tough sometimes to pin point key people in Hijelous' life, since he often ran on other tangents while telling a story. On the bright side, his writing is also very evocative and descriptive. While reading I could close my eyes and picture the run down apartment he grew up in, or the bars he frequented with their smoky rooms and sultry singers. That was definitely a key element to my appreciation of this memoir.

Even more than a story of his growing into a writer though, Thoughts Without Cigarettes is the story of a boy who becomes a man. A rags to riches tale if you will. What really drew me in was the fact that such an amazing author, such a lyrical writer, came from such a difficult life. Feeling like an outcast from your own culture is something that I  was able to connect with personally, and I felt for him every step of the way in his explanation. However, Hijuelos not only shares his boyhood with us, but populates it with people who are vivid and true. Although I don't know a single one of these people personally, I feel like I met them simply through his descriptions of them. He isn't afraid to share both the good and parts of his life. Whether an event was for the better or the worse, it's all there in black and white. 

I'm rambling now, so I'll wrap it up. For those of you out there who enjoy memoirs, and are looking for your next read, pick up Thoughts Without Cigarettes. Even if you aren't a huge fan of memoirs, this is a great one to start with. Oscar Hijuelos has a history that is definitely interesting. With some of the best descriptive writing I've seen, and a story that is deep and honest, it is well worth a read.

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.


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