Book Corner

Book Review: The Price of Paradise by Susana López Rubio

The Price of Paradise by Susan López Rubio




Blurb: In a city as corrupt as it was luxurious, those who dared to dream were bound to pay the price.

Havana, Cuba, 1947. Young Patricio flees impoverished Spain and steps into the sultry island paradise of Havana with only the clothes on his back and half-baked dreams of a better life. Blessed with good looks and natural charm, he lands a job as a runner at El Encanto—one of the most luxurious department stores in the world.

Famous for its exquisite offerings from French haute couture to Arabian silks, El Encanto indulges the senses in opulent extravagance. It caters to visiting Hollywood stars, rising politicos, and prerevolutionary Cuba’s wealthiest power players, including the notorious mobster César Valdés.

Falling in love with the mobster’s young wife, Gloria, is suicide. But Patricio is irresistibly drawn to the beautiful girl with sad eyes, a razor-sharp intellect, and a penchant for both Christian Dior’s clothes and Einstein’s theories. Within the walls of El Encanto, anything seems possible, even a love that promises to heal them and a desire that thrums with the mambo beat of the city itself.

In a reckless love affair that spans half a century, Patricio’s and Gloria’s lives entwine time and again, challenged by every twist of fate—for in a world of murder, betrayal, and revolution, those who dare to reach for paradise seldom survive unscathed.

After reading this story, I did a little research. The department store, a central venue in the story, was actually a real-life place. El Enchanto, a landmark department store in Cuba pre-Castro era, was a real place and I was intrigued that the author picked a real place to set her story. I have no idea if the reason for the fire matches what Rubio wrote but it inspires me to use a real-life event and weave a story around it. I liked the story that much more after discovering El Enchanto was a real place and that secured the five-star rating for me.

The story begins with Patricio getting off the boat and stepping foot in Havana, Cuba. He traveled from Spain where things were dire and he wanted a chance at a better life. Penniless and with the clothes on his back, he spent the first night in Havana on the beach. He walked to a store that was rumored to help refugees. There he meets a monster of a man that happens to be from the same part of Spain as himself and lo and behold, he used to date his sister. He makes the mistake of calling her a whore, not realizing until too late that was his sister and he nearly gets he gets a small beating. But after the man discovers Patricio is from his homeland he relents and they end up being best friends. Patricio then moves into the “bedbug” motel with his new best friend and his roommate and soon, the three are inseparable and are known as the three musketeers.

Patricio is a likeable character. He’s a smooth talker and can sell water to a duck. He has a talent for making people believe they need the product he’s selling and he soon proves his worthy and catches the attention of the owner of El Encanto. After proving to the owner that he can sell anything to anybody, he gets a job as a “cannonball”, or a runner, for the store. There he meets a pretty elevator operator who flirts with him and he is happy and content in his new life.

Until he meets Gloria. It’s love at first sight and he feels like he won the lottery.

And then he finds out Gloria is married. But not just married, but married to an infamous mobster. The very mobster who very nearly shot him in the head for very nearly ruining his shoes.

The story progresses and soon Gloria realizes she’s in love with Patricio and they gradually begin to find ways to be together without anyone finding out. Because if her mobster husband, César Valdés, finds out about them, he will surely kill them both.

Gloria has a very unfortunate story. She was coerced into marrying César Valdés and she found out too late how ruthless he was. Her marriage caused her father to have a heart attack and die which caused her mother to become so overwhelmed with grief she slipped into a zombie-like state to escape her inner hell. Gloria despised her husband but she didn’t dare leave. She is on the verge of killing herself when she finds out she’s pregnant and that seals her fate, she will never leave her daughter in the hands of her ruthless husband.

The story is rich and sweeps you into the late 40’s, early 50’s era. It’s a story of abuse and two people desperate to find happiness any way they can get it, even at the risk of their own lives. Just as the two loves birds agree to run away together, César Valdés’ sister finds out about Gloria’s lover and their plans and threatens to go to César Valdés who will surely hunt Patricio down and kill him. Gloria loves him too much for that to happen and she doesn’t show up at the rendezvous.

Patricio, heartbroken and thinking Gloria has played him and really loves César Valdés leaves Cuba and goes to Florida taking Nell, the elevator operator with him and they marry. The story continues, with Gloria and Patricio living separately but longing to be together.

It’s a story of bad timing – our two main characters are constantly being thwarted and not allowed to be together. And given the circumstance, it had to happen the way the author wrote it. I felt sorry for both Patricio and Gloria and I understood their reasoning for the things they did. It didn’t make any less frustrating, but I understood it. The author did a really good job of teasing the reader – giving the characters just enough rope to pull them out of the pit of despair before knocking them back over the edge again.

I definitely recommend.

Goodreads comments:

I thought I was going to read a good historical novel. It ended up being a dime store romance devoid of any substance. Great for 14 year old girls.

Wait, what?? “Devoid of substance?” How can you say this book, where it follows two characters who should be together but can not be because of circumstances beyond their control set in pre-Castro Cuba at a real-life department store that actually burned down “devoid of substance?” This story is about abusive relationships and finding love where you least expect it. It’s a story about respecting the one you love so much that you’re willing to sacrifice your own happiness so that the other one will continue to live and be free. I’m quite confident that a 14-year old girl would not fully appreciate the myriad of emotions this story exudes as these characters come up with ways to survive their crappy lives and the decisions made on their behalf by rich, powerful people. This story is about survival and cultivating a love so powerful few people actually experience it. And other than referencing the political climate at the time and a large part of the setting taking place at El Encanto, I’m not sure I would classify it as a historical novel. The author takes real-life aspects and weaves a beautiful, sad, powerful story of two people desperate to find a way to freely express their love for one another.

Goodreads comment:

This book was kind of annoying for me. The writing style was lush and descriptive, and I did enjoy the early parts. I just got so continually frustrated with Patricio though, that it really ruined my enjoyment of the story. All my sympathies went with Gloria, and frankly I thought she deserved way better than anything she got, including Patricio.

In particular, Patricio’s treatment of Nely, or really any woman that wasn’t Gloria was fairly appalling. And the fact that he KNEW it, really just made it worse, not better. Acting in ignorance is unfortunate but somewhat understandable, but when you know you’re hurting someone and you do it anyhow is inexcusable. Also it was really rash. Gloria had agreed to go away with him, shouldn’t the note have triggered something in his head? that maybe something had happened? Even seeing her kiss Ceasar is no excuse for running off to go be with Nely. How is that fair to her? “oh I couldn’t have my first choice so I guess you’ll do. Also I’m going to pull you out of your country and even knowing your’e a communist, take you to a dictatorship country and know terrible things could happen to you if you’re caught doing activist work” And then the second he finds out about Gabriel, brings her back, and knowingly involves himself back in Gloria’s life, even though he has a new life. And then tried to uproot her again, to go on the run as a fugitive? Frankly he deserved Nely calling the police on him and removing themselves from his life. And then while he might not have gotten married again, he still continued to have relationships with other women, while making no attempt to get over Gloria. How is that fair to any of them? Maybe if he kept it all to one night stands, but he admitted he lived with several for years. If you’re not actually ready to move on, stop getting involved with people who will think you are. I didn’t even care about the happy ending by the end, because I was fed up with all of his behavior

I agree, sort of. Though it wasn’t great the way Patricio treated Nely, it was also realistic, unfortunately. There are many people out there that choose their “second choice” in life. It doesn’t make it right, and it can be wrong on so many levels, but it’s also what happens to millions of people every day. If the love of our lives is unattainable, for whatever reason, do you really expect people to go through life without any love, affection or sex of any kind? To imply that Patricio was less of a human being because he moved on with his life when he realized the love of his life wasn’t going to be his is fundamentally human. It’s sad, but human. To me, it almost seems like the author of this comment is projecting and not really looking at Patricio’s character arc. To me, if the author had decided that Patricio needed to be a love sick hermit for the rest of his life, that would have disappointed me. It’s possible to settle in life and experience different types of loves in one’s life. Just because it’s not the “love of their life” doesn’t mean it’s any less impactful – life must go on. To stop one’s life and not live it because of one person is a truly sad and disappointing choice.

The ending was a bit of a surprise though I was secretly rooting for something like it to happen. It’s never too late to love truly and fully. And I’ll leave it at that.