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Monday, January 14, 2008

Christmas with Mr. Hijuelos

Last spring, when the days were long and warm, I came across an interesting item at a neighborhood estate sale -- a book that for years I had been meaning to read:

Oscar Hijuelos absolutely knocked me out with his Mambo Kings novel many years ago, and a signed first edition of this later story of his was quite a catch at 50 cents.

As Christmas approached, I decided to settle in with it, finally. It's not a very long work, but at my usual pace for pleasure reading, it took me a few weeks to read the whole thing.

As it turns out, it's not a merry Christmas book -- quite the opposite. It weighed down heavy on my middle-aged mind, with themes of aging, violence, loss, revenge, frustration. And throughout it, there appeared a quest for spirituality that created a heavy burden, and only sometimes a balm, for the soul.

Hijuelos's skill as a writer is a blessing, but also a curse. His senses are keen, and his voice is penetrating. He doesn't pull punches much. We love his New York characters, but this time around their brightest moments are as brief as a solstice day. Their hurt becomes your hurt.

No question, there were nights when this book beat me up. But it has an elusive beauty that I could not resist, and so I followed the tale to its conclusion. There was much wisdom in these pages, and the scenes in which the great human spirit triumphed were highly uplifting. But they were hard-earned moments. There will be no Hollywood movie.

Why would an author write a book such as this? What are we readers to take from it? One obvious message is that when times are good, one should drink in every divine drop, because it will not always be that way. Another lesson is how hard it is for a broken heart to reopen -- but how hard it can try. May I never know Mr. Ives's agony in real life, but may I show that I learned something from his journey.

Comments (2)

I'm sold. To the library I go...

January 13, 2008 -- Sunday Poem

WHY should not old men be mad?

WHY should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher's wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.

- from On The Boiler by William Butler Yeats

(Posted by Azra Raza at 08:22 AM

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