This was a book I bought when I went on a book shopping frenzy. I had not really heard of the book but the title and description were interesting enough. So when I started reading the book I was disappointed and had a hard time getting through the first part of the book. However, I stuck to the book and was pleasantly surprised.
Part of the reason I had a hard time with the first part of the book was that it was too philosophical. Philosophy was never my favorite subject and will probably never be, mainly because I don’t really get answers. I find that I usually end up with more questions. I also found the characters a bit off-putting. At first it seems that both of the protagonists think they are above others, a little condescending.
The story is narrated by the two protagonists, Renee and Paloma, alternating chapters. Renee is a 54-year-old widow concierge of a posh Parisian apartment building and Paloma is a 12-year-old tenant planning to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. They are both intellectuals who have been disappointed with life and hide their true selves by playing the roles society has dealt them. I found the character of Paloma a bit unconvincing. Renee’s character becomes more dimensional after she shares her history. It explains why she believes people of different social classes cannot mix. I also found it interesting that both had this affinity for Japanese culture.
The story picks up after a new tenant moves in, Monsieur Ozu. Both the characters are so wrapped up in themselves that they failed to notice they were kindred spirits. It is not until Monsieur Ozu brings them together that they see how much they both have in common. It is also this connection that allows the two of them to open up and confide in each other. They also begin to realize that they do not have to follow the status quo and can be themselves.
For me the best part of the book was the story of Jean Arthens and the camellias; beauty in its simplicity can give us hope. Although, I struggled with the book I did enjoy the end even if it was dramatic and unexpected. The one thing this book left me with is that sometimes we are all too busy and wrapped up in ourselves that we don’t see each other. So it might not be a bad idea to take time to observe people—who knows we may find a kindred spirit.