Mr. Ives' Christmas

( 3 )

Overview

Hijuelos' novel tells the story of Mr. Ives, who was adopted from a foundling's home as a child. When we first meet him in the 1950s, Mr. Ives is very much a product of his time. He has a successful career in advertising, a wife and two children, and believes he is on his way to pursuing the typical American dream. But the dream is shattered when his son Robert, who is studying for the priesthood, is killed violently at Christmas. Overwhelmed by grief and threatened by a loss of faith in humankind, Mr. Ives ...

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Overview

Hijuelos' novel tells the story of Mr. Ives, who was adopted from a foundling's home as a child. When we first meet him in the 1950s, Mr. Ives is very much a product of his time. He has a successful career in advertising, a wife and two children, and believes he is on his way to pursuing the typical American dream. But the dream is shattered when his son Robert, who is studying for the priesthood, is killed violently at Christmas. Overwhelmed by grief and threatened by a loss of faith in humankind, Mr. Ives begins to question the very foundations of his life. Part love story—of a man for his wife, for his children, for God—and part meditation on how a person can find spiritual peace in the midst of crisis, Mr. Ives' Christmas is a beautifully written, tender and passionate story of a man trying to put his life in perspective. In the expert hands of Oscar Hijuelos, the novel speaks eloquently to the most basic and fulfilling aspects of life for all of us.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
Stunning...a triumph...with honesty at its core that seems almost shocking in this day and age. A lovely story.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Enthralling...A life-affirming novel, a worthy successor to Dickens.
Los Angeles Times
He tells a story that is 2,000 years old and yet in so doing presents us with a book that is truly startling in its novelty...This is the best book Hijuelos has written. Which is saying something.
Denver Post
Hijuelos shows us that miracles are something nearer than we believe.
Rich Nichols
The spirit of Charles Dickens seems to hover over the pages of Oscar Hijuelos' fourth novel. A Christmas Carol comes to mind frequently, for most of the transformations in Edward Ives' life occur during the holiday season. As a very young child of unknown parentage and uncertain ethnicity he is admitted to a Catholic orphanage. His years there permanently fuse in his imagination his love of the season with a belief in the redemptive power of faith. He is adopted by a sweet-tempered widower at Christmas. He meets his wife Anne at Christmas. And, in the tragic event at the heart of the novel, he loses his 17-year-old son to an act of random violence during the holiday. Much of the novel's action is taken up with Ives' long struggle to retain his faith in the face of loss, and to reaffirm it by reaching out to his son's imprisoned murderer.

As he demonstrated in his exuberant earlier novels (The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien), Hijuelos shares with Dickens a deep conviction that often serves to preserve or redeem us. He's also fascinated with the way in which place shapes our lives, recording here an exact, gritty portrait of Mr. Ives' New York City neighborhood from the 1920s to the present.

Hijuelos is one of our most restless novelists, always willing to try something new. He has pared down the language of his earlier works to better match the Ives' quiet lives and understated anguish. And in a climax that is both audacious and deeply convincing, he has invented a way for Mr. Ives, as Christmas draws near, to reaffirm his faith. Dickens would, I suspect, be envious.
Salon

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060927547
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/28/2003
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 147,078
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Oscar Hijuelos was born of Cuban parentage in New York City in 1951. He is a recipient of the Rome Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, among others. His five previous novels have been translated into twenty-five languages.

Oscar Hijuelos nació de padres cubanos en Nueva York en 1951. Sus otras novelas incluyen Mr. Ives' Christmas, The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien, Our House in the Last World y A Simple Havana Melody (Una Sencilla Melodía Habanera). Vive en Nueva York.

Biography

While reviewers often liken Oscar Hijuelos' dreamy, rich novels to the works of Gabriel García Márquez, Hijuelos himself takes exception to the comparison. These reviewers are "myopic," he told a writer for The New York Times. "I love Yeats and Flann O'Brien."

And the language in Hijuelos' novels is indeed as poetic as the language of his Irish heroes. When The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, the story of two Cuban brothers who move to Spanish Harlem in the 1950s to make their mark as singers, appeared in 1990, readers and critics waxed ecstatic about Hijuelos' writing.

Hijuelos, a second-generation Cuban-American who was born in New York City, writes about assimilation and identity, love and loss, and the power -- and pain -- of family life. In Our House in the Last World, Hijuelos' first book, he explores the world of memory and displacement, following the fortunes of a Cuban family transplanted to New York in the 1940s. In The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, for which Hijuelos received the Pulitzer Prize, Hijuelos created the Castillo brothers, Nestor and Cesar. Their story was recounted through Cesar's memories and fantasies, as he lived out his last days in a seedy hotel. In researching the book, Hijuelos steeped himself in Latin music from the period and in his own remembrances of his childhood on Manhattan's 118th Street. The result is a highly charged yet tender distillation of past, suffused with a crystalline sense of detail that brings Nabokov to mind.

Hijuelos attributes some of this obsession with memory to his heritage. "Latins are predisposed to thinking about the past," he told the Times. "Catholicism has a lot to do with it because Catholicism is a contemplation of the past, of symbols that are supposed to be eternally present."

With The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien (1993), he took his exploration of memory in a different direction, telling the story from the perspectives of several female narrators, and stretching them across several generations. In 1999s Empress of the Splendid Season, he switched perspectives again for the story of a cleaning woman whose life is a stark counterpoint to that of her wealthy employer's. Three years later in A Simple Habana Melody, Hijuelos returned to "when the world was good," in 1920s Havana with a love story told by a Cuban composer whose infatuation inspires him to write the most famous song of his career.

Good To Know

Writers Donald Barthelme and Susan Sontag were among Hijuelos's teachers at City College of the City University of New York.
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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 24, 1951
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., City College of the City University of New York, 1975; M.A.,1976

Read an Excerpt

LONG AGO AT CHRISTMAS

Years ago, in the 1950s, as a young man working for a Madison Avenue advertising agency, Ives always looked forward to the holiday season and would head out during his lunch hours, visiting churches, to think and meditate, and, if he was lucky, to hear the choirs as they practiced their hymns and sacred songs. Often enough, he walked along the burgeoning sidewalks, crowded with shoppers and tourists, and made his way to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, where he'd become lost in a kind of euphoric longing-why he did not know. And in a moment, he would find himself, as a child, attending Mass with his adoptive family again, so many memories coming back to him: of standing beside his father during the services and noticing, as he looked up at his father's kindly face, just how moved he seemed to be by the prayers, and the Latin incantations, and the reverential chants; so moved, especially during the raising of the host, that he almost seemed on the verge of tears.

Each time he entered a sanctuary, Ives himself nearly wept, especially at Christmas, when the image of one particular church on Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn, whose choir was very good and the worshipers devout, came back to him, its interior smelling mightily of evergreen boughs, candle wax, and pots of red and white blossoms set against the columns. Dignified Irishmen, with greatly slicked heads of hair, dockworkers for the most part, turned up in ties and jackets, their wives and children by their sides. And there were bootleggers and policemen and carpenters and street sweepers in attendance as well. And a blind man whom Ives sometimes helped down the marble stairs; a fewNegroes, as they were called in those days, all, Ives was convinced, believing in the majesty of the child. The old Italian ladies, their heads wrapped in black scarves and their violet lips kissing their scapular medals, and crucifixes and rosaries, kneeling, nearly weeping before the altar and the statues of Christ and His mother; and at Christmas, the beginning of His story, sweetly invoked by the rustic and somehow ancientlooking creche.

The fact was that Ives, uncertain of many things, could at that time of year sit rather effortlessly within the incense- and candle-wax-scented confines of a church, like Saint Patrick's, thinking about the images, ever present and timeless, that seemed to speak especially to him. Not about the cheery wreaths, the boughs of pine branches, the decorative ivy and flowers set out here and there, but rather about the Christ child, whose meaning evoked for him a feeling for "the beginning of things," a feeling that time and all its sufferings had fallen away.

Of course, while contemplating the idea of the baby Jesus, perhaps the most wanted child in the history of the world, Ives would feel a little sad, remembering that years ago someone had left him, an unwanted child, in a founcfling home. (To that day, to all the days into the future, there remained within him the shadowy memory of the dark-halled building in which he lived for nearly two years, a place as cavernous and haunted as a cathedral.) A kind of fantasy would overtake him, a glorious vision of angels and kings and shep-hcrds worshiping a baby: nothing could please him more, nothing could leave him feeling a deeper despair.

Enflamed by the sacred music and soft chanting, his heart lifted out of his body and winged its way through the heavens of the church. Supernatural presences, invisible to the world, seemed thick in that place, as if between the image of Christ who is newly born and the image of the Christ who would die on the cross and, resurrected, return as the light of this world, there flowed a powerful, mystical energy. And his sense of that energy would leave Ives, his head momentarily empty of washing machine and automobile advertisements, convinced that, for all his shortcomings as a man, he once had a small, if imperfect, spiritual gift.

That, long ago, at Christmas.

A SENTIMENTAL MAN

More sentimental than he would let on to others, Ives, in his later years, was the kind of fellow who saved just about everything, a practice that had something to do with his foundling beginning. In his study, he had file cabinets filled with letters, postcards, and Christmas greetings. He kept fiineral cards, Jesus Christ with His burning heart welcoming the sanctified into heaven, the glorious place. He had autographed drawings from Winsor McKay, Walter Lantz, Otto Messmer, Lee Falk, Dick Caulkins, and dozens of other cartoon artists. And pilcs of cards and correspondence from commercial artists like himself, many of them friends with whom he had collaborated over the years. A curiosity: somehow and somewhere, he had acquired an autographed publicity shot of the actor Ray Milland. And there was also his collection of, affectionately kept, handwritten notes from fellow artists much more famous than himself. His favorite, because it took him back to a happier time during his childhood, was the note Wait Disney had sent him back in 1935, Nvhen, at the age of thirteen, he submitted some funny-animal drawings and gag ideas on the chance that he could go to work for the Disney studio, then making a new kind of animated, feature-length film called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A form letter turned him down, but a few lines had been added, which said, "Keep in touch and keep it up, your work is swell! Walt Disney." Ives showed the note to all his friends and passersby, as they walked by his stoop, the mild praise had him floating for weeks.

(He even had a crinkly-edged black-and-white photograph taken of him back then—Ives in a tie and jacket posed on the steps of his building in Brooklyn, just after he'd come back from Mass, with the letter held up before him, for all to see. His expression was happy.


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 1999

    A book that will increase your capacity for compassion

    As with 'The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien', this book takes you on a journey through life, from childhood through the final years. However, 'Mr Ive's Christmas' is also a book about compassion...compassion for a father, a wife, a friend, a son, and for someone who has only brought grief and torment into life. The comparisons to Dickens are obvious and, like Dickens, this book will make you think alot about the way you live your life. It is beautifully written and you will admire Hijuelos both for his gifted use of language and his ability to create a meaningful and touching story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2008

    Not So Merry Christmas

    This book is the story of a kind, Christian man who is depressed most of his life, especially at Christmas. The story jumps around both time and place, which becomes tedious. Although it is well written in many ways, it just wasn't what I was looking for to help me get in the Christmas spirit.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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