Oscar Hijuelos RIP: Mr Ives' Christmas

Mr Ives' Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

published 1995

[Edward Ives is courting Annie MacGuire in New York in 1948/49]

For the most part, they saw each other on weekends. There was very little they did not do together in their spare time: they went to jazz clubs in the village, visited galleries, haunted bookshops, had picnics in the park, and sometimes, with a borrowed car, took drives upstate, along the Hudson and beautiful wooded areas, through quiet towns and countryside, where they fantasized about living one day. They got to know each other’s friends…

His bedroom sounding sweetly with a nearby church’s bell-tower clarion on Sunday mornings, he would take her to Mass. He wore a blue suit with white shirt and red tie, and she wore a dark dress and a white felt hat, with a ribbon about its brim and a veil that fell piously over her face. At Mass she found Ives’ reaction to the service more moving than the service itself.

observations: Oscar Hijuelos died last week. He was a Cuban-American writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love – great title, great book, great film –  the first Latino to win the award.

This book has a lot in common with the current cult and blog favourite Stoner by John Williams: and not just the fact that both have misleading titles – Stoner has nothing to do with drugs, and Mr Ives’s Christmas may sound like some sentimental twee book about happy holidays, but is far from that.

Each book tells the story of a good man living his life in a difficult world, and both are intensely rewarding, extraordinary novels that show us what great writing can achieve.

Mr Ives marries Annie, above, and has two children, but you know from the opening pages that his son dies in a stupid street incident. The book shows how his life divides from that moment, and how he tries – and for a long time fails - to come to terms with his loss. It is an uplifting book, about serious religious faith, but it is not necessary to share Mr Ives’ faith, or any, to get the point of the story. It is difficult to write grippingly about goodness, but Hijuelos achieves it (as does Williams in Stoner) and also gives a lovely picture of life in a certain milieu in New York from the 1940s through to the 1990s, even though this is a relatively short book.

His death is a great loss, but Mr Ives’ Christmas will surely last forever, keeping a word-of-mouth reputation and perhaps some day enjoying a revival like Stoner.

The picture is from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.


  1. Interesting book, I have turned down a few opportunities to acquire Mambo in the past. This looks more interesting.
    I am waiting/hoping for a copy of Stoner via Net Galley - someone's been sitting on my request for a wee while now - must have been something I said.

    1. They're both great books, in a quiet meaningful way. I have a spare copy of Stoner - email me your address and I'll send it to you....

  2. Moira - Oh, yes! The Mambo Kings! I hadn't thought of that in forever but you're quite right that it's terrific - film, book, etc.. I'll admit I've not read this particular one, but I do love those stories where you see someone transcend what's going on in their lives like that. It's that quiet kind of life story that can really have an impact.

    1. He was such a good writer, but didn't seem to have the fame or readership that he deserved - certainly very little-known over here. I hope he will be remembered...

  3. Well, you are so convincing I went and ordered a copy. (It was a bargain book and I could not pass it up.) I will be honest and say this author was not familiar to me at all. Again, you picked a great picture to illustrate the post.

    1. I hope you like it - I think it's a really memorable book, sad but ultimately uplifting, and I hope you think the same...


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