Parisian Promises
Cecilia Velastegui
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Buy *Parisian Promises* by Cecilia Velasteguionline

Parisian Promises
Cecilia Velastegui
Libros Publishing
275 pages
February 2015
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Jean-Michel approved of this new, even more submissive Monica. The tactics he’d learned about forcing a female target into an environment of isolation and mind-clouding techniques appeared to have paid off.
Magnetically drawn to the timeless mystique of Paris, naïve American Monica has resolved to become a painter and “live in the moment.” She arrives in 1973 with friends from college. Two of her companions burn out fast in the City of Light, but the third--hardheaded Lola, who simply takes what she wants from life and men--will stand by Monica after her fashion, warning her that, “in those ‘forbidden love’ stories you’re so fond of, somebody always dies.”

Suave rebel-without-a-cause Jean-Michel, who seems to be what Monica wants, is covering a personality as malevolent as Lola hints. Through a peephole, he delights in watching Monica languish; he has rendered her weak-minded with a combination of love, sex, and fear, intending to sketch her into his vague blueprint for terrorism. Perhaps, like one of the disaffected characters created by Patrick Modiano (winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature), Monica may be caught up in the sensuous notion that “When you really love someone, you must accept their part of mystery” (Dans Le Café de la Jeunesse Perdue). Meanwhile, the stable boy Christophe, who admires Monica’s paintings and whose body she admires, is also hiding his true identity—but he has something more positive to offer, perhaps her saving grace. Omnisciently observing, but not hesitating to meddle, are elderly concierge Madame Charon de Pichet, a faded revolutionary still ready for action, and her companion Serge, a street-smart ex-Résistance fighter.

Ecuadorian author (Traces of Bliss, Gathering the Indigo Maidens) and world-traveler Cecelia Velástegui has created a saga both plot-rich—spicing it with equal measures of danger and romance—and character-rich—painting people, particularly females, in passionate poses and flamboyant hues. Like Modiano, she draws on her personal recollections of time and place. For Modiano, it began with the grey, grim Paris of the Occupation. Velástegui’s is Paris in the 1970s, when idealistic foreigners flocked in, hoping to imbibe the heady glory of the 1960s student protests. Modiano, in La Ronde de Nuit, observes gullible outsiders embracing the self-satisfied city: “You're breathless with exhilaration on the threshold of this vast thoroughfare, but it's only the Champs-Élysées with its cosmopolitan bars, its call girls and the Claridge.” Similarly, Velástegui converts the city and its world-weary denizens into a kind of blasé Chorus:

Paris had seen many rebellions before, but not on the raucous scale of 1968…so today, on this breezy afternoon, the Parisians walking past could both delight in the American’s innocent charm and smirk when they thought of the rude awakening in store for naïve foreigners like these at the hands of haughty, cynical real Parisians.
Winner of the International Latino Book Awards for her earlier novels, demonstrating a flair for multilingual imagery and an ability to make us laugh, pant and pine along with her adventurous, sensuous heroines, Velástegui seems poised for further recognition as a worldwise femme de lettres.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2014

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