Ken Tucker
June 14, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

A Simple Habana Melody (From When the World Was Good)

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Oscar Hijuelos
publisher
HarperCollins
genre
Music, Fiction

We gave it a B+

Oscar Hijuelos (HarperCollins, $24.95) The author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love takes his fascination with music in a new direction, telling the fictional story of Israel Levis, a Cuban composer most famous for his 1928 hit song, ”Rosas Puras.” A Simple Habana Melody is best when it’s, well, simplest: Hijuelos spins out the decades of Levis’ life, letting us in on the portly, wryly intellectual music maker’s dreamy hopes, hopeless dreams, and dreams fulfilled. However, to then make this thoroughly engaging character a Catholic mistaken for a Jew who is then shipped off to the Buchenwald prison camp is almost too much tragedy for a nuanced novel about art and beauty to bear.

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