History’s Role in Fiction
In the novels the house on The House on the Lagoon and Mambo Kings, real
historical facts and figures are used to give the stories a sense of realism. The authors of
these novels use small pieces of history to make a realistic setting for their stories. The
authors also use fictional historical events and figures to add personal and emotional
elements to the novels.
The House on the Lagoon is mainly about fictional characters who give personal
accounts of real historical events. The novel begins with Buenadventura’s arrival in San
Juan on July 4, 1917; the day Puerto Ricans were granted American citizenship. This day
is the beginning of an endless debate over the nationality of the residents of Puerto Rico.
Politics play a huge role through out the entire novel. The argument over statehood
versus independence or commonwealth results in the destruction of the Mendizabal
family. The Mendizabal’s personal struggle with this issue reveals just how extreme the
At this time in history Puerto Rico could not seem to come to a decision on
whether they were Americans or Puerto Ricans. Unfortunately neither side of the conflict
could appreciate or even consider the arguments of the opposite side. Hatred and
contempt grew between the parties. Emotions, on both sides, were so strong that a father
disowned his son on account of their political disagreement. The argument started when
Manuel refused to take down a Puerto Rican flag that his girlfriend Coral had given him.
Kristen Kszos (2)
Prior to this argument Manuel was neither a Nativist, like his father, or an Independista,
like Coral. “At first Manuel joined the Independista Party to please Coral, but his
resentment toward his father radicalized him.”(357) Manuel was a stubborn man who did
not like being told what to do. When his father demanded the removal of the flag , and
then told him that he couldn’t marry Coral, Manuel’s anger and resentment drove him to
take increasing action for the AK 47.
The Mambo Kings is set in a real time with real historical figures. The novel is
filled with real historical figures such as Machito and Desi Arnaz; in fact the only
fictional figures are the Castillo brothers, their family, and some of their friends. The
main characters in the novel are used to let the reader really know exactly what life was
like for the musicians of that era. The purpose of this novel is to give its reader(s) an
understanding of who the men behind the mambo were. The Mambo Kings is a story of
the Castillo brothers struggle for success/fame and the rapid descent from it.
Cesar is introduced to us as the typical ladies man; he is literally addicted to
women. “Floating on a sea of tender feelings, under a brilliant starlit night he fell in love
again: with Ana and Miriam and Veronica and Vivian and Mimi and Beatriz and Rosario
and Margarita and Adriana and Graciela and Josefina and Virginia and . . .” (434) The
majority of the novel is filled with explicit details of his many sexual encounters. He
represents the easygoing lifestyle that was most likely true for a decent percentage of the
musicians of his time. His character is fun loving and greatly appreciates the “benefits” of
Kristen Kszos (3)
Nestor is a troubled man who refuses to let himself enjoy life. He is obsessed with
his undying love for Maria and the failure of their relationship. He is on the opposite end
of the spectrum from Cesar. As a group The Mambo Kings represent the many “one hit
wonders” of their time. This is portrayed through the single appearance on the I Love
Lucy Show. They received their small amount of fame when they returned home, but it
was relatively short lived. The story must have been similar for many other musicians of
Desi Arnaz is an example of a fellow Cuban who happened to make it all the way
to stardom.” Eventually I ended up in New York, working the clubs here. Just the same
way you fellows are. I had some good breaks . . .and things have gone well ever since.”
(141) Desi Arnaz was actually from the same part of Cuba as the Castillo brothers. I think
that what this basically means is that some people made and some did not. The ones who
did not were virtually forgotten.
In The House on the Lagoon, Rosario Ferre was able to bring life to real historical
events through the use of fictional characters and some fictional events. His novel is
based on fictional characters who let the reader see the personal ideas and emotions that
must have been present for the real historical figures of the time. Oscar Hijuelos is able to
give his readers an extremely detailed and personal account of the lives of the Mambo
Kings mainly because they are fictional and no one, relatives and/or friends, can object.
His novel allows the reader to experience the life of a Mambo King. I would have to say
that both novels gave me a better understanding of their respective times in history.