Thoughts Without Cigarettes
Gotham Books: 367 pp., $27.50
Was there ever a time and place more alive and unpredictable than New York City in the middle decades of the 20th century?
Oscar Hijuelos was lucky enough to live there then, a son of Cuban immigrants. In his often deeply affecting memoir, "Thoughts Without Cigarettes," he describes the odd cast that called his West Harlem street home.
He had German and Irish best friends, jammed with black and Latino jazz musicians — and got mugged again and again. Every so often, the rocket engineer Wernher von Braun walked past his window.
It's a neighborhood where...