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8. Hijuelos vividly captures the cultural transformation of New York in the 1960s and 1970s as drugs and crime (and Columbia University construction projects) spread throughout his neighborhood. How did this cultural revolution make Hijuelos a better writer? How did this time and place compare with the village atmosphere in which his parents had spent their youth?

9. How did Catholicism influence Magdalena's view of the world? What rituals, religious or otherwise, gave comfort to the other immigrants living in Morningside Heights?

10. Even after he was released from the Connecticut convalescent hospital, Hijuelos continued to feel isolated in school, among neighborhood boys, in his family and eventually in college. How was he able to create such pitch-perfect renderings of the communities he did not feel welcomed by?

11. In many ways, Hijuelos's success beat the odds. What does his journey—enduring a literary community rife with snobs and harsh critics—say about the way creative talent is developed in America?

12. On the surface, Pascual and Magdalena seem to have a household that would never foster creative sons. Yet both Oscar and José follow unconventional career paths in the humanities after leaving behind stable careers in advertising and the military. How did their upbringing enable them to make these leaps of faith?

13. Which members of Hijuelos's extended family made a lasting impression on you? How was Oscar affected by being the namesake of a beloved uncle who had died tragically? What led Aunt Maya to finally let Pascual manage his own life? Would you have felt more at home with Magdalena's relatives or Pascual's?

14. Discuss the themes in Thoughts Without Cigarettes that echo throughout the author's fiction. Of the Hijuelos novels you have read, which ones had the greatest effect on you?

Read O's review of Thoughts Without Cigarettes

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