Empress of the Splendid Season
Publication Date: February 1999
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In this transcendent new story, Hijuelos tells the story of Lydia Espana, a beautiful and formerly prosperous emigre of pre-Castro Cuba, who becomes a cleaning lady in New York. Once the spoiled, pampered daughter of a small-town mayor and adored by men'a "queen of the Conga line" - she is forced because of a youthful sexual indiscretion to leave home and, in 1947 finds herself suddenly living the life of the working poor. In time she falls in love with Raul, a humble waiter. One night in a Manhattan ballroom, in the middle of a bolero, Raul proposes marriage, for Lydia is his "empress of the most beautiful and splendid season, which is love."
A life of promise is disrupted when Raul falls ill and Lydia, finding employment as a domestic, becomes the head of the family. Striving to educate her two children, Rico and Alicia, in the style of the upper class, she must endure a lesson in humility, cleaning the homes of New Yorkers much better off than herself.
Among her employers is Mr. Osprey, a reserved and kindly lawyer, who eventually takes an interest in her family's well-being and, during the turmoil of the 1960s, intervenes at a critical juncture in the life of her teenage son, Rico. Throughout, Lydia remains a sensuous and powerful woman who meets the trials of a lonely life with humor and a gleam of triumph in her eye'a sense that she is someone special'an empress of fortitude, of dignity.
Hijuelos' genius for evoking the heart and soul of his characters has never been more vivid, moving, and impassioned than in Empress of the Splendid Season. A master of eloquent detail, Hijuelos allows Lydia to open up, alive and vibrant on the page. No one writes better of love or the pulse of the city. And no one has better captured the complexity of what happens to generations of people who come to America: how assimilation is at once the achievement of dreams and a loss of what has rooted us to the past.