THIS NEW edition of Our House in the Last World, the first novel by Cuban-American writer Oscar Hijuelos, tells the story of the Santinio family, who leave Cuba to emigrate to New York in the 1940s. The novel begins with the story of Mercedes and Alejo, young lovers who will become the mother and father of two children, Hector and Horacio.
It follows how the dreams of the young Alejo and Mercedes turn sour, unable to realise their promised hopes of the US. Alejo never makes good his plans to own a small business. He ends up as a poorly paid chef. Mercedes becomes crushed and resentful, as Alejo becomes violent, drunk and sentimental by turns.
The Santinios' younger son, Hector, is caught between the old Cuban world of his parents and the US of which he feels a part. He finds it difficult to speak Spanish and doesn't know how to react to his Cuban relations.
The Cuban Revolution, Castro and the excitement of the 1960s appear in the book indirectly. Alejo's friends include anti-Castro refugees, and avowed Communists. Oscar Hijuelos has a beautiful writing style that captures the feeling of being trapped between two cultures. He does not romanticise the Cuban immigrant community, nor Cuba before or after 1959.