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Empress of the Splendid Season

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When Raul Espana falls ill, his wife Lydia, who had enjoyed a life of luxury as the mayor's daughter in Cuba, finds herself cleaning the apartments ... Show synopsis

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Reviews of Empress of the Splendid Season

Overall customer rating: 4.000
rejoyce

A Working Class Empress

by rejoyce on Aug 20, 2007

Oscar Hijuelos' Empress of the Splendid Season is told from the perspective of Lydia Espana, an "upper lower-class" Cuban American cleaning lady in Manhattan, and thus the disparities of wealth and class, ambitions achieved and thwarted, statuses acknowledged and ignored, are filtered through her immigrant experience. Boldly, the author's tale reverses the conventional arc of Horatio Alger novels and The American Dream. In fact Espana's movement is one of downward mobility, a story heard less often than the more consoling "success stories," yet nonetheless true, for example, of Korean professionals reduced to being greengrocers in part because of the language barrier. The novel isn't big, capacious and exuberant like Hijuelos' The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, but the prose is more assured and avoids some of the tiresome repetitions that marred the earlier work. Still, any writer who has written a celebrated novel so bursting with life will inevitably suffer comparisons. New York Times critic Michio Kakutani called Empress an "attenuated" effort and ridden with class stereotypes, calling Osprey a one-dimensional caricature of a rich man. I disagree. What's alive for me in the novel is Lydia Espana's interior existence, her reveries about a life of privilege in Cuba in contrast to her present condition, her alienation from her assimilated American-born children, her fractious marriage, and her persistent romantic longings. All ring true to me, and it is to Hijuelos' considerable credit that he had the nerve to create a novel around a working-class immigrant female character.

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