City of Love and ImmigrationBy: José Manuel Simián
What do you do after your first book is included among the New York Times’ notable books of the year list?
You take a trip to Paris, of course. At least that’s what author Patricia Engel did with her first novel It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris. The result is another winner for Engel—one of the most refreshing books on love, immigration and coming-of-age to land on our desks in a long time.
Lita, the 20-year-old New Yorker protagonist, is the one embarking on a yearlong Paris adventure. But while her boardinghouse roommates are looking for extreme experiences—of the sexual nature, that is—Lita’s quest revolves around two things: an honest love story and finding her own identity apart from a loving but overwhelming family.
Engel’s brilliance stems from her capacity to craft—both with Lita and with Sabina, the central character of her short-story collection, Vida—a female voice that is both moving and believable. A voice that conveys the uncertainties and anxieties of early adulthood without sounding vapid; someone who yearns for romance as a liberating, dangerous, mysterious experience.
Engel’s novel is also a smart exploration of the immigrant experience. Just like the author, Lita is the daughter of Colombian immigrants. But her story has a twist that lies at the bottom of the novel’s emotional architecture: Lita’s parents are orphans who became rich after they moved to New York. Their early struggles and uncanny economic success have produced an emotionally sheltered and financially secure child who is now struggling to become her own person.
Lita’s trip to Paris is her way to continue the journey they started. And even if we’d never fallen in love in Paris—ah, where did we put that bucket list?—that’s something we can all relate to.
In other words: Junot, you got company.