'Reclaiming Paris' By Fabiola Santiago
Reviewed by Johnny Diaz
Found at the Boston Globe
Marisol is a poet and a museum historian. She's also a lover of perfumes and men. All these interests intertwine and shape her life as she leaves her native Cuba and follows her heart to Miami, Iowa, Spain, and France.
Marisol, the first-person narrator of Miami Herald writer Fabiola Santiago's debut novel, "Reclaiming Paris," searches for many things. She looks for a man who will fill the emotional spaces in her heart. She seeks to understand her complicated family's past. Most of all Marisol, whose name in Spanish means "the sea and the sun," wants to find herself.
At first sight, Santiago's novel might look like another light romantic tale, but a closer examination reveals a rich spiritual journey of self-discovery. Marisol tries to understand her dual identity as a Cuban and an American.
Bolstering the novel are the subtle references to historical immigration issues that Santiago laces into the narrative. She also pulls the reader along by initially telling only part of the story about Marisol's father's death, a fatal encounter with Castro's soldiers that led her grandmother to flee Cuba with her on a Freedom Fight in 1969 rather than face further repercussions from the regime.
With each milestone in her life, Marisol ushers in a new perfume and a new man. Naturally, the book opens with an ode to both. "Men are like perfumes," Marisol says. "In an instant, with nothing but a whiff of judgment, I either love them or discard them."
In the opening pages, Marisol's perfume is Pleasures, and she associates it with an affluent, married Miami cardiologist with whom she has fallen madly in love. As she ruminates about their dead-end relationship, the book briefly rewinds into Marisol's childhood and then flashes forward to her string of lovers and accompanying fragrances.