Paradise Travel
Jorge Franco
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Buy *Paradise Travel*

Paradise Travel

Jorge Franco
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
240 pages
January 2006
rated 5 of 5 possible stars
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Newly arrived in New York City with his lover, Reina, illegal immigrant Marlon Cruz steps out for a smoke. Tossing the cigarette aside, he is face to face with a policeman. Startled, he panics, running into the night. Soon he is lost in a city where everything looks the same, a stranger in a strange land without even a common language to protect him.

So begins a harrowing journey through the unfamiliar streets of New York that leaves him nearly immobilized by fear. Nothing has gone as promised when the couple first made plans to leave Medellin, Colombia, on an adventure to a new life. Reina has engineered every detail from the start of their romance in Colombia, drawing him by the force of her will into this terrifying journey to New York, the gold at the end of their rainbow.

Marlon is vulnerable without his muse, filthy and homeless until sympathetic Colombians take him in and set the handsome young immigrant on the path to redemption from the nightmare that has become his reality. His experiences along the way are charged with desperation and an urgent need for anonymity in New York City: “its millions of inhabitants; its blocks of cement, iron and glass; its tons of garbage; its time and energy, the madness and the blood.”

He flounders among outcast alcoholics and prostitutes, residing in flophouses, walk-ups that sleep three to a room. He is willing to tolerate any condition until he can locate his woman: “until I found Reina I would live through whatever hell New York had to offer,” anticipating not even one day of relief - “I was learning to live inside the intestines of the beast and feed off it, always careful not to provoke my host.”

Moving back and forth between Colombia, New York and Miami, Marlon incrementally reveals his story - the early days of Reina’s determined seduction, the harrowing journey from country to country courtesy of Paradise Travel, a front for moving illegals across borders as tourists.

Marlon’s ordeal is an unrelenting hell of trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, brutal coyotes and border guards, all looking to make a profit from the huddled groups dressed in black who shuffle through the night to the commands of their indifferent guides, “leaving their memories behind” along with identities, addresses and photographs.

Marlon’s emotions seesaw between fear and hope, new friends and a loving woman left behind when he picks up Reina’s trail, one year and three months after he first loses her. Reina has been the more dominant partner, but the naďve, frightened young man is transformed by his trials, harsh life lessons learned along the way.

What begins as an unbelievable ordeal to the uninitiated becomes a path to a future free from fear, the prose as blunt and painful as Marlon’s situation. Franco proves, once again, that you can’t go home again, but that “a person’s country is wherever there is love and affection.”

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2006

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