14 June 2002

Laurel and I went to the Free Library last night to hear Oscar Hijuelos do a reading from his new novel, A Simple Habana Melody: From When the World Was Good (HarperCollins, 2002). He answered audience questions afterwards. Both the reading and hearing his answers were quite enjoyable.

If you are unfamiliar with him, Hijuelos is the Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love as well as several other novels, among which I've only read Mr. Ives' Christmas. His novels often seem to have significant musical themes and he notes that he often thinks of their of composition in lyrical or symphonic terms.

He also often writes about faith (or lack thereof), though he is himself somewhat adrift of his Catholic upbringing. Still, there was a fascinating interview with him in Image journal a couple of years ago (a prominent arts and religion journal). In that interview at one point he comments:The individual I'm most fascinated by is the figure of Christ, and I'm always trying to figure out why on earth this particular story of this man revealed through history managed to survive, how this imagery managed to survive in a world in which there were indeed a lot of mystics, a lot of magical people. What's going on?...I think Ives [of Mr. Ives' Christmas] is a better person than I am, but he also has some of my wariness about breaking down an area of life that I think requires a tremendous amount of talent, a certain kind of gift, a certain kind of humility, not so much before the Church, but before the very fact of life. You need to be humble to believe in God, and humility is out of fashion. And yet, you have to ask yourself, with all the horrible tragedy in the world, how can you justify or explain or even think in terms of any kind of God that cares? For me, that goes back to the image of Christ, which is an image of compassion, ultimate compassion, the story of man--the baby in the cradle, the man on the cross, and the resurrection--which is the whole.In any case, Hijuelos' own personal desire for faith, his Catholic upbringing, his intellectual and emotion struggles, and his obviously deep affection for Christianity emerge in various ways in the characters he portrays, reflecting in many ways the difficulties we all face as people of faith.