A romance in Paris leaves an indelible mark on rich, young, smart-but-shy Lita del Cielo, in a downbeat coming-of-age tale by a noted new writer.
At the run-down Parisian mansion known as the House of Stars, Old Europe hosts the gilded youth of the future, wealthy debs who are briefly distracting themselves with foreign studies, sex and shopping. Lita (who arrives the day after Lady Di’s death) is a misfit in this glamorous company—the sincere, unsophisticated daughter of a Colombian orphan who has become the King of Latin Foods and a mother whose generosity to immigrants has earned her the title Our Lady of New Jersey. In her debut novel, following a well-received volume of stories (Vida, 2010), Engel trades on familiar elements: teenage alienation; old-world decadence; star-crossed lovers. She partners Lita with Cato de Manou, who is not only the son of a poisonously extreme right-wing French politician, but is also suffering from a major illness—pulmonary sarcoidosis. Cato and Lita’s mutual passion, though strong, is tested by Cato’s physical fragility and the disapproval of both families. They break up for a while then reunite. Eventually, Lita must return home. But they will always have Paris.
There’s a sense of déjà vu to this sensitive but self-consciously doomy paean to first love.