This vividly imagined and detailed epic about two giants of the 19th century is the product of over a decade of work; Hijuelos was still revising the manuscript up until his untimely death in 2013. In his late teens, the author became captivated by Sir Henry Morton Stanley and his extraordinary trajectory from a poverty-stricken Welsh orphan to a world-renowned explorer; Hijuelos also discovered that Stanley had a friendship with Mark Twain. Using third-person narrative, letters, and journal entries (all fabricated), and by bringing in Stanley’s wife, the painter Dorothy Tennant, as a foil between the two men, the author brilliantly breathes life into Victorian times. Particular focus is paid to Stanley’s early life in America, and an entirely concocted journey he took to Cuba with Twain in search of Stanley’s adoptive father and namesake. Stanley, formal and somewhat rigid, though certainly erudite and keen for adventure, contrasts with Twain, the more relaxed and gifted speaker whose humor endeared him to audiences around the world. The author depicts not only the peace of mind the two get from family life, but also their various setbacks—the financial trials beset by Twain and the heartbreaking family deaths he suffered, and the illnesses that plagued Stanley his whole life. Hijuelos’s death is made all the more poignant by an observation Stanley makes in an introduction for one of Twain’s speaking engagements: “Our literature is our legacy, and if there is such a thing as ghosts, literature will be the only verifiable version of them.” How lucky we are to have this rich novel. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/07/2015 Release date: 11/03/2015 Genre: Fiction
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