August 02, 2004 12:00 PM

By Celia Cruz

Before she died of cancer at 79 in 2003, Cruz logged 500 hours of interviews with cowriter Ana Cristina Reymundo for a biography that gives intriguing peeks into her life. One of 14 children of a railroad worker and a homemaker, Cruz began her singing career after winning a radio talent contest at 23. Her prize: a cake. She went on to sing with the band La Sonora Matancera, a gig that set her on the road to stardom. She would record 20 gold albums over the next 40 years. The book explores her tumultuous personal life—she fled to Mexico in ’60 after communism took hold in Cuba and later settled in New York City with husband Pedro Knight—and offers up tidbits like the origin of her signature onstage cry, “Azúcar!” (She first shouted it while ordering coffee at a diner.) Yet superfluous details—including notes on a spicy sauce that gave her indigestion—often slow the narrative. Given that this was Cruz’s final song, a few more high notes would have been welcome.


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