"Men are like perfumes. In an instant, with nothing but a whiff of judgment, I either love them or discard them."
Marisol is an exuberant poet and historical archivist living in contemporary Miami. Like her adopted city, she's a sensual free spirit. Born in Cuba and transplanted at an early age to Florida, she nurses a nostalgia for the legendary island birthplace she barely remembers. She also harbors a passion for scents, donning a new perfume each time she takes on a new relationship. After the death of her beloved grandmother and a series of sensuous but disappointing romances, Marisol realizes that she must break free from the shackles of her history, abandon lost causes, and embrace the only real home she's ever had -- her own wandering heart. Freed at last from yearning for old Havana, "the Paris of the Caribbean," this romantic exile must embrace a new life. Although she cannot reclaim Havana, she can experience the real thing -- Paris -- so Marisol sets out with an open ticket to chart the course of her future.
Bridging the divide between the effervescent Miami of today and the mystical Cuba of yesteryear, Reclaiming Paris is a paean to place and memory, rich with humor, passion, and unforgettable characters.
Santiago, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of Elian Gonz lez in the Miami Herald, makes her fiction debut with this flat immigrants' saga. Marisol, a 30-something historian for the Miami Museum of History, recounts in jumbled retrospect the tale of her sometimes idealized, sometimes difficult childhood in Cuba. After her father's early death and her mother's subsequent unbalance, Marisol is raised by her loving abuela ("grandma"), and the two emigrate to the Cuban Miami of the Vietnam era. Santiago focuses on Marisol's love life, from her first crush as a little girl to a succession of Miami migr s, including a political refugee who despises the bourgeois life to which Marisol aspires, and a cardiologist who shares Marisol's nostalgic yearnings for the Cuba of old, but will not leave his wife for her. Different perfumes delineate various phases of Marisol's life (with Wind Song, White Linen and others serving as section headings). Santiago brings together the expected elements of an immigrant's tale of self-discovery and redemption, but there's little drive behind Marisol's diaristic narration. Along with the perfume conceit, the Parisian connection, made explicit by the end, feels contrived.