A Simple Habana Melody

A Novel


By Oscar Hijuelos

Foreword by Arturo O’Farrill

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$24.99 CAD

From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Oscar Hijuelos comes a “massively engaging…masterpiece of history, music, wonder, and sorrow” about a composer returning to his beloved homeland after WWII (Kirkus, starred review).

The year is 1947. Israel Levis, a Cuban composer whose life once revolved around music and love, is finally returning home. En route to Habana, Cuba from Spain, he is a shadow of his former self, disillusioned after he was mistakenly sent to a camp during the Nazi occupation of France.

In Habana, he escapes his anguish by reminiscing about his happiest moments before the war, when he lived a life of pleasure and excitement—and had a loving, if unrequited romance with Rita Valladares, the alluring singer who inspired Levis’ most famous composition, “Rosas Puras.”

A tender homage to music, art, and a vibrant country at the edge of modernity, A Simple Habana Melody is a melodic, virtuoso performance from one of America’s most talented writers.

Includes a reading group guide. 

  • “Pulitzer-winner Hijuelos is at his massively engaging best. A masterpiece of history, music, wonder, and sorrow.”
    Kirkus Reviews, starred review
  • "Hijuelos triumphs in capturing the sights and sounds of Habana at the edge of modernity."
    Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • "Hijuelos magically conveys the teeming excitement of musical Cuba, incorporates real characters such as Buster Keaton, George Gershwin, and Al Jolson, and deftly portrays Levis's sexual ambiguities, which include his platonic love for a talented Cuban mulata, an earthier liaison with a beautiful Jewish Resistance fighter, and an oblique but lifelong fascination with the charms of men better-looking than he is. Powerfully evocative of the music and moods of the period, this novel is highly recommended as both psychological and "show biz" fiction."
    Library Journal, starred review
  • "Perhaps no other contemporary novelist has managed to sustain a melancholy mood more convincingly than Hijuelos does in this haunting story of a Cuban composer whose life is an agonizing mix of joy and sadness, creativity and repression."
    Booklist, starred review
  • "A nuanced novel about art and beauty."
    Entertainment Weekly
  • "On every page of this slyly masterful book we hear the sound of song."
    Chicago Tribune
  • "The writing has a gossamer beauty."
  • "Keeps us enthralled, then lingers in our minds like the haunting notes of a song about longing and loss, hope and disappointment, suffering and salvation. Hijuelos draws you—deeply and inextricably—into his eloquently romantic and elegiac new novel." 
    Oprah magazine
  • "Habana is a seductive and elegiac book about music, love, and sex."
    USA Today
  • "A bittersweet elegy for the pre-Castro capital." 
    New York magazine

On Sale
Feb 11, 2025
Page Count
368 pages

Oscar Hijuelos

About the Author

Oscar Hijuelos (1951-2013), a native New Yorker and the son of Cuban immigrants, was a Pulitzer Prize winning author of nine novels and a memoir and a recipient of the Rome Prize awarded by The American Academy of Arts and Letters. He also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He became the first Latino winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1990 for his international bestseller The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love and his novels have been translated into more than 40 languages.

Arturo O’Farrill, eight-time Grammy-winning pianist, composer, and educator, was born in Mexico and grew up in New York City. His professional career began with the Carla Bley Band and continued as a solo performer with a wide spectrum of artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, and Harry Belafonte. In 2007, he founded the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance (now called Belongó) as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the performance, education, and preservation of Afro Latin music. Arturo has been a Steinway Artist for many years and is a Blue Note Records Recording Artist.

Learn more about this author