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Thoughts without cigarettes by oscar hijuelos — reviews, discussion, bookclubs, lists

Finally, I am finished with this book. What I perceived as self loathing and shame about his family, Hijuelos describes as identity problems that caused him to be «reticent and self doubting.» Reading this book was enervating.

The pace picks up briefly when Hijuelos recounts bits of his 2 year stay in Italy. His contentedness and joy in living swoop off the page and I imagine a smile on his face, but the moroseness returns.

I’ll be placing this book in the swap, and right soon.

What Finally, I am finished with this book. What I perceived as self loathing and shame about his family, Hijuelos describes as identity problems that caused him to be «reticent and self doubting.» Reading this book was enervating.

The pace picks up briefly when Hijuelos recounts bits of his 2 year stay in Italy. His contentedness and joy in living swoop off the page and I imagine a smile on his face, but the moroseness returns.

I’ll be placing this book in the swap, and right soon.

What happened to the book swap?

I saw Hijuelos in a PBS interview. I can’t remember him ever smiling during the event. He was on the stump for this book, Thoughts Without Cigarettes. He seemed arrogant, distant, and simultaneously, diffident. He looked more Cuban than he imagined, and a very unhappy Cuban at that. I was much dismayed when music videos became the thing because my imagined images of the singers and their lyrics were forever destroyed if I viewed the video. My first encounter with Hijuelos on that PBS interview was like that, coloring my impression of the author and my reception of his work.

I remember being particularly pleased with the size of the book. It is slightly narrower than the standard hardcover. It fit in my hand very well and I had positive feelings going into the work, where I read about his childhood ills, his parents’ early life in Cuba, the family’s emigration to New York. Early in this book, I got the sense that Hijuelos was (is?) ashamed of his background, definitely his mother, and that he has a color complex because he is very fair while his parents and brother are dark. Looking at their pictures, they don’t appear that dark, but Hijuelos is stuck on the fact that he doesn’t necessarily ‘look’ Cuban, nor like his parents. I can’t tell if he identifies with whites because of his health and medical experiences, if he wants to be white, or if he wants to be more visibly Cuban, but he definitely has some type of identity problem going on throughout the memoir that begins, in the insidiously quiet and ugly suggestion that Hijuelos doesn’t like himself or his mother.

Talk about Danny Downer! After reading about a third of this book, I had to put it down and read several other books, knit a few things, reorder my know, anything to avoid reading the book because it was bringing me down and not making me feel favorably towards the author. Eventually, I went back to it and recall the author’s interest in writing ‘techniques’ when he discussed how he came to be a writer, a condition that seems to bewilder him. I can’t tell if he is engaging in false modesty or if he truly doesn’t feel worthy, like an impostor or poser.

Perhaps the conflicted emotions I feel after reading this book is testament to Hijuelos’s mastery of the techniques he so admired. Perhaps the emotions are a result of reading the interpretation of lives shrouded in a tone that is both sardonic and diffident. I learned from reading this memoir that I don’t do brooding and ashamed of my folks well, especially when it appears one has no external reasons for this mood.

For me, Hijuelos comes off as a whiner. Oddly enough, I found another of his books at my local Friends of the Library book sale and picked it up after reading the first page, which seemed to echo the life of his mother or one of his aunts. I’ll see if I have a better opinion of the Hijuelos’s storytelling abilities after reading Empress of the Splendid Season.

Now, I feel better about this review! (less)


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