Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Price of Paradise by Susana López Rubio


WOW. This was an emotionally draining read. It actually reminded me a lot of some of the epic bodice-rippers of the 70s and 80s, like Natasha Peters's SAVAGE SURRENDER, in how it follows the characters from a young age over the course of their entire lives. I wasn't actually sure how I got a copy of this book because I didn't remember buying it, but then I realized that it was a freebie on Kindle during World Book Day a few years ago.

THE PRICE OF PARADISE is set in Cuba during the late 1940s/early 1950s, pre-Castro (during Batista's reign). At this time, they are having a mob problem. The heroine, Gloria, is the beautiful child of two sweet shop owners, but one day she catches the eye of one of said mobsters, a creep named Cesar Valdes. He makes it his business to court her and SHE'S THIRTEEN by the way. When courtship doesn't work, he has people bash up her parents' shop and kills the birds he gifted her. Her parents are shocked into health problems and Gloria ends up becoming his child-bride at fourteen.

The hero, Patricio, is an escapee from Spain. I believe he came to Cuba to escape Francisco Franco during Spain's fascist period. He lives in relative poverty but ends up making friends with two guys who end up becoming his ride-or-dies. After a period of shoe-shining, he comes to work at a luxury department store, which is how he encounters Gloria: while making a delivery of ceramic animals, he accidentally runs into her and smashes the lot.

The rest of the book is a turbulent sea of pining, danger, murder, double-crossing, triple-crossing, and mob shit. People who don't like books where the hero and heroine spend time with other people aren't going to enjoy this, because Patricio ends up with another woman named Nely for a while and, of course, Gloria is married to her horrible husband. One thing I really admired about this book, though, was how nuanced everyone was. Cesar had a tragic history, his sister, Marita, ended up becoming far more complex than the mean girl she was presented as, and both Gloria and Patricio did some pretty garbage things to each other and to others in the name of love.

Actually, in some ways, this reminded me a lot of THE BRONZE HORSEMAN, with how it used a changing political landscape as the backdrop of a doomed-seeming romance. I thought for a while that this book was going to have a majorly downer ending but this is one of those books where you have to trust the process, even when things seem bleak. TRUST THE PROCESS. That said, I think I would consider this more of a love story than a romance, even though people shelved it as a romance, just because so much of the book had the couple separated and focused on other elements instead.

Still, this was an incredibly powerful and unique read and I think I'll be thinking about it for a while.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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