Hello Readers!

Another entry for a book I read for my American Immigrant Experience class. I’ve been writing this particular review for a couple of days and just to be frank with you, Our House in the Last World by Oscar Hijuelos is a slow start, but it picks up quickly. This is Hijuelos’ first novel, published back in 1983. Apparently, this novel was semi-autobiographical which only makes me cringe. It was really hard to read this because  of the content handled–it was handled well all things considered–but if it was semi-autobiographical it makes me wonder how much was true and what he knew about his family that we don’t know for sure. In short and like I said, hard to read, but it made me think and that was enjoyable. So, to get started…

“English forced its way through him, splitting his skin” (95).

I will get to that particular quote in a moment–firstly, the title of the book. For me, the word ‘house’ is unfamiliar, cold, and empty. ‘Home is where the heart is…’ There is a sort of permanence and warmth there. In the Introduction, Hijuelos states, “Ultimately memories of Cuba always seem to loom over the Santinio household like an unattainable ‘last world,’ a fount of happiness to which one can never return” (8). Hijuelos goes on to say that he is “proud of the ambiguity of ‘last world.’ It could refer to Cuba or to our present, perhaps final reality…” (238). When my class discussed the novel, it seemed like many of them found there to be many worlds, while some believed Cuba to be more of  a vehicle to getting them to America. Maybe it is just me, but a house is just a house. Now a home, a home is the  environment within and around the house–it’s the memories and events that take place and the people who come into and go out of your life. That’s home to me. So I guess what I mean to say is that Cuba is home to Mercedes, one of the main characters, while America is just some place she is and despises.

Now–to get to the quote I have there. Language is such a huge part of this novel. While gravely ill, Hector Santinio is taken to a hospital and treated… horribly. His nurse is just nasty and I would love to give her a piece of my mind. How dare she lock a child in a closet! I was livid when I read that. She would keep him there until he learned english. Thus begins a conflict within Hector. If he speaks spanish then he is degraded until he speaks english. If he speaks english, his Cuban family becomes upset. He can’t win. Which doesn’t help because he has no identity. Having been told many times, he begins to believe he is not Cuban, he is not Spanish, and he is definitely not American. He might look one way, but to others he is just as much of an outcast as the rest. Both he and Mercedes dissociate and float away from their bodies on what seems to be a daily basis as to not have to confront the issues that terrorize them. That apart, it is absolutely horrible because he does not have a home–he has a house with a poor father, a mother that must have Munchausen syndrome and maybe even Munchausen by proxy (terrible), and a brother who knocks up a sweet girl and beats people within an inch of their lives before running away to the military. Ugh.

Speaking of violent behavior–there is an obvious and dramatic cycle of abuse in this novel. It is just disgusting. Alejo beats and rapes Mercedes–oh what fun that was to read. 😦 Then, because she claims she has nowhere to place her anger and frustration, she beats her children! Here’s a thought Mercedes–fight back, don’t lie down and take it. Alejo also just lays into his children. Lastly, her two sons: Horatio and Hector. Horatio goes and finds fights which continues the abuse while Hector does not even try to defend himself when his mother or brother go after him without provocation. If you haven’t already been able to figure this out–domestic violence is one of those topics that is touchy and leads to many a heated debate where I’m from.

Overall, this novel was amazing and despite the fact that I have issues with the content–it truly is a fantastic read. In short, I am giving Hijuelos’ Our House in the Last World a 4.5 out of 5.

“Virtuoso writing…. A loving and deeply felt tribute.”
–New York Times Book Review