PARADISE by Elena Castedo


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A clever and richly textured first novel by Chilean-reared writer Castedo, now resident in the US, that does not live up to the promise of its premise--namely, that what is thought to be paradise is more corrupt than the fallen world beyond its walls. Set in Chile just after WW II, the story is told by a child-narrator--Solita--whose family has fled France's Spain and then Occupied France, and has come to Chile as refugees. While her parents look for work, they live in a rundown boardinghouse where Solita and her young brother make friends with the other refugees. For Solita, this is a paradise--there are no bombs to fear and the family is all together; but her mother, beautiful and well-born, is not happy. She announces one day that she is taking the children with her to live in a paradise--a luxurious country estate owned by wealthy Chileans. The visit, her mother tells them, is her ""big chance."" Solita's family is to provide amusement for their hosts, especially their hostess, who depends on Solita's mother for advice and friendship. Solita is to play with the three daughters. This paradise is a self-sufficient enclosed world dedicated to frivolity and inhabited by an eclectic group of guests, wealthy relations, and exotic pets. But paradise is not quite what it should be: the girls torment Solita, her mother ignores her, her father--despised for his union work--seldom visits, and the guests quarrel. Their departure from the estate, though a triumph for Solita's mother, who has dumped Solita's father and ensnared one of her hostess' rich relations, is for Solita the end of that earlier paradise she had enjoyed when her refugee family was all together. Her mother's paradise is too dearly bought. Casteda's characters are vital and full-bodied, and Solita the child narrator is always correctly childlike, but the story is too drawn out and the metaphor soon exhausted. Somehow along the way, in more ways than one, paradise gets lost.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 0802134270
Publisher: Grove Weidenfeld