In The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien, Oscar Hijuelos brings to life the rambunctious Montez O'Brien family. In a small Pennsylvania town, Nelson O'Brien runs the Jewel Box Movie Theater, raising 14 daughters and a son with his wife, Mariela Montez. Through the eyes of Margarita, the eldest daughter, the lives, loves and tragedies of the Montez O'Briens and their complex family relationships unfold. While reflecting on the life of Emilio, her doggedly masculine brother, Margarita also ruminates on the ...
In The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien, Oscar Hijuelos brings to life the rambunctious Montez O'Brien family. In a small Pennsylvania town, Nelson O'Brien runs the Jewel Box Movie Theater, raising 14 daughters and a son with his wife, Mariela Montez. Through the eyes of Margarita, the eldest daughter, the lives, loves and tragedies of the Montez O'Briens and their complex family relationships unfold. While reflecting on the life of Emilio, her doggedly masculine brother, Margarita also ruminates on the nature of femininity, family, sex, love and earthly happiness. Her musings recall exhilarating adventures, eliciting tears and laughter, and tenderly reveal the bounteous heart of a warm, passionate family. At once lush, erotic and gorgeously written, The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien is a masterwork by one of America's greatest writers.
One finishes The Fourteen Sisters reluctantly, the way one finishes a long letter from a beloved family member, eager for all the news not to end.
Exuberant, richly detailed.
San Francisco Chronicle
A marvelous novel...[Hijuelos's] range is impressive, his storytelling fluid...his scope exuberant and full of life.
- Publisher's Weekly
Hijuelos's second novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 and was a crossover sensation. His depiction of two Cuban brothers making music in New York City was hailed both for its intimate knowledge of immigrant life and for its unrestrained celebration of carnal delights. Here, Hijuelos has taken his trademark concerns--the travails of cultural assimilation and the wonders of the flesh--to extraordinary lengths, with mixed results. In a style that combines the exuberance of Garcia Marquez with the dogged genealogies of Oscar Lewis's La Vida, Hijuelos tells of the Montez O'Brien family of Cobbleton, Pa. Nelson O'Brien, an Irishman, meets Mariela Montez while he is fighting the Spaniards in her native Cuba in 1898. They fall in love and marry; Nelson embarks on a career as a photographer and moviehouse manager, and sires 15 children—14 daughters and one son, Emilio. Unfortunately, Hijuelos is unable to bring the huge family to life. Instead, he falls back upon a single observation—that the overwhelmingly female household exudes a feminine allure powerful enough to pull a circus pilot and his plane right out of the air, as happens in the book's opening scene. This magic realism (monarch butterflies and flocks of birds follow the sisters around) grows wearying after continued deployment, and the sexual coquettishness within the family (one sister suckles Emilio, another pines for his "barbed masculinity'') borders on the deviant. The Montez O'Briens are followed from the Depression through the two world wars and Vietnam, and then up to the present, but this immigrant tale seems unnaturally beatific: Emilio goes to Hollywood, three sisters headline in New York nightclubs; another is a psychic; yet another sends a child to Yale. The predominant struggles are with love, and the ultimate consolations are in family. Unable to rope this sprawling brood into purposeful direction, Hijuelos loses his grip on the story, with a formal omniscient narration overwhelming what at times seems to be the older sister Margarita's point of view. Despite Hijuelos's matchless, soaring prose, the novel, like the poor airman, cannot stay aloft. (Mar. )
Hijuelos, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, has written a beautiful pastorale, loosely based on the idea of the limited text implied by photographs, in which the lives of 17 characters are developed. From the early 1900s to the 1980s, the Montez O'Brien family lives in a small town in Pennsylvania. As the title suggests, the family consists of an Irish father, Cuban mother, 14 daughters, and one son. Hijuelos interweaves their individual lives and loves, as in a family photo album, but reserves the fullest treatment for the eldest daughter, mother, father, and only son, who becomes a B-movie star and befriends, among others, Errol Flynn. Sexual liaisons play an important role, and Hijuelos composes women's stories with a loving hand. Readers looking for a strong plot and the urban sensibility of Hijuelos's earlier books will be disappointed; those whose interest is good writing will enjoy themselves.
—Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib., New York
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.
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.