It's been more than 25 years since the appearance of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love,
the exhilarating samba of a second novel by Oscar Hijuelos. This was nearly a decade before Buena Vista Social Club
popularized the hypnotic rhythms of Havana, yet Hijuelos's depiction of a Cuban musician who immigrates to the U.S. and must ultimately settle into life as a building super was so vivid, the artist's thwarted passion and ambition so palpable, that notes seemed to leap off the page into song. In the years since Mambo Kings
won Hijuelos the Pulitzer Prize, he went on to publish seven more books before dying two years ago of a heart attack at age 62. But this month his last work is being released. Lori Carlson, Hijuelos's widow and a writer herself, tenderly prepared her husband's novel for release, working closely with the book's editor.
Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise draws on the real-life friendship between Mark Twain and Henry Stanley, the explorer of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" fame. It is a rollicking adventure tale, bromance, and portrait of two fascinating men who battled their way to prominence during an era defined by yellow fever, the Civil War, and a pioneering American zeal. The themes of Twain & Stanley are quite different from those of the novel that made so many of us first fall for Hijuelos. But when the protagonists find themselves in Cuba on a quest to locate Stanley's missing father, we are transported again to the cafés of Havana—cigar smoke wafting, ceiling fans spinning—recalling that young writer who seduced us with his sonorous, sensuous language, a language very much like love.