“And one day, after everything, you will wake up and realize you really haven’t suffered much at all.”
Lita del Cielo is the daughter of two Colombian immigrants who arrived in America with nothing but have now managed to make a fortune. She leaves home for a year to study abroad in Paris before she has to return to work in the family business. Lita moves into a crumbling mansion known as the House of Stars, where Countess Seraphine rents out rooms to young women visiting the City of Light to study, work, and, unofficially, to find love. At first Lita keeps to herself, finding the other girls intimidating, albeit a little fascinating. Then one day Lita meets Cato and the two fall in love. But as they retreat into their own world, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the outside world from closing in.
There are a lot of reasons to praise this book. Patricia Engel’s writing is extraordinary and the Parisian setting is absolutely breathtaking. The main characters, as well as the supporting cast of young ladies, are incredibly relatable; you understand their motivations and fears, even when you disagree with their actions. These people are young and they’re just trying to find their way in the world.
It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris is indeed a love story, but it’s also a novel about self-discovery and the struggle between family duty and the need for independence. It’s an exploration of a woman’s attempt to create her own life separate from a family that she loves, but whose plans for her aren’t necessarily what she wants. The way Engel portrays Lita’s relationship with her family and her struggle between staying in France with Cato or returning home is fascinating to read. One of my favourite things about Engel’s writing is the way she conveys fears that a lot of us feel. At one point Lita asks her brother, “I just want to know, when exactly does my life belong to me?” and the response she gets is one we don’t want to hear: “Are you kidding? Never.”
This book moved me more than I thought it would. Patricia Engel portrays the intricacies of friendship, family relationships and social status in a way I haven’t seen a quite some time. I strongly recommend reading this one, Savvy Readers! It’s a book that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.
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