Mexican author Nettel's (The Body Where I Was Born, 2015, etc.) third novel tells the intersecting stories of a man and a woman living, respectively, in New York City and Paris.
Misanthropic, Cuban-born Claudio holds the rest of humanity in contempt, adheres to a rigid routine, and keeps his New York apartment free of any visitors. "Every morning, as soon as the menacing noise of the world penetrates my window, the perennial questions arise: how to protect myself from contagion? How to avoid blending in, becoming corrupted?" Robots appeal to him, and at one point he yells, in a restaurant, "I want to be an infallible machine!" He barely tolerates his rich, long-suffering girlfriend, although "her eyes always look as if she is about to cry and this gives them a certain allure." Instead he dreams of an ideal woman with whom he will one day achieve happiness. Meanwhile, Cecilia, a Mexican graduate student in Paris, struggles with loneliness and the feeling of being useless. She spends her time watching the funerals that take place below her window in Père-Lachaise cemetery. Both Claudio and Cecilia are immigrants, and both see themselves, for different reasons, as outsiders removed from the other denizens of the cities they inhabit. The novel is told in first-person chapters that alternate between their points of view. As he endures emotional and physical pain, Claudio's arrogance becomes tempered, somewhat. "I, who had always had my life and my emotions under control, had now turned into a poor specimen of a human like those wretches the street teems with, sniveling on the escalators in the subway." Nettel writes with compassion for her flawed, unhappy characters and the isolation they feel within their adopted cities. As they navigate life's losses and disappointments, both gradually integrate more fully into humanity. "I myself formed part of the hordes of neurotics and schizophrenics who frighten the tourists," Cecilia realizes toward the end of the book. Though the characters' paths do cross, the book's greater concern is their individual journeys toward a provisional, imperfect belonging.
A compassionately written portrait of urban loneliness and the human impulse to belong.