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Review: Fabiola Santiago's 'Reclaiming Paris' is a powerful work

Okay, before we get started talking about this book, maybe we need a cold shower.

There. All better now.

Reclaiming Paris is hot, not tawdry-romance-novel hot, but Garcia-Marquez-meets-Anais-Nin hot. The language is elegant and has the flavor, at times, of magical realism. Giving a plot synopsis won't do justice to the book, because it will come off sounding like a bodice ripper. It's not. With that caveat, we can tell you that it's the story of a young Cuban-born woman and her artistic, spiritual and sexual awakening.

Damn. Sounds like a romance novel. (Time for another shower, too.)

Okay, let's try again: Marisol is a poet and archivist in Miami. We meet her in present day, and the intensity of her affair with the suave and powerful Jose Antonio leads to a series of sexual reminiscences: the gringo boyfriend from her college days in Iowa (Iowa?), the picture-perfect episode in Paris and her loving relationship with her grandmother. The flashbacks to her abuela's early life read like a lost passage from Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Wherever Marisol goes, she carries her abuela with her as her conscience, and the strength of this bond between women that cannot be erased, even by death, is the heart that holds the book together.

The window to Marisol's story is perfume. She changes men, she changes her scent, a device to propel the narrative from exotic Miami to corn-fed Iowa City to the romantic pinnacle of Paris.

Through it all, Fabiola Santiago writes with clarity and grace. This is an astonishingly good book, filled with wisdom and great eroticism. The sex scenes would no doubt be clumsy in the hands of a male writer, but her writing is as startling and sensual as Nin's classic Delta of Venus.

Santiago is a longtime writer and editor for the Miami Herald. Add her name to the list of these other fine writers produced by that newsroom: Carl Hiaasen, Edna Buchanan and Dave Barry.

William McKeen teaches journalism at the University of Florida.

Reclaiming Paris

By Fabiola

Santiago

Atria Books, 286 pages, $24.95

Review: Fabiola Santiago's 'Reclaiming Paris' is a powerful work 11/22/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 22, 2008 3:30am]

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