Book review: Carla de Guzman’s “Cities”

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Do any of you guys still remember the Gwyneth Paltrow movie “Sliding Doors”? Gwyneth Paltrow’s character misses a train, and then the movie goes into two different timelines and in both timelines Gwyneth loses a baby? It’s totally okay if you don’t, because i didn’t really watch it and only remember it because it had that one song from Aqua that really took people by surprise.


“If only I could turn back ttiiiimmmmeeee!!!!”

Yeah, that song. As I was reading Carla de Guzman’s Cities, I couldn’t help but have this song going on and on in my head. Will I be able to say the same about Cities? Or would i rather wish that I could turn back time so I wouldn’t have had to read it? Check under the cut to find out!

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Cities is about four friends – Celia, Ben, Henry, and Vivian – who are brought together by a wedding. And just like all weddings do, it brings up a lot of feelings from all four of them.

But it’s a lot more complicated than just old feelings coming back to the surface. Ben and Celia have been having dreams about each other, and Ben believes that it’s not a coincidence that this is happening. Especially when it shows him and Carla in different cities, living “what if” scenarios where the two of them are more than just friends.

 Will these dreams “come true”, in a manner of speaking? Or were they just dreams all along?

I didn’t really know what to expect when I started reading Cities. I had a vague notion that there were parallel universes involved, from a swift perusal of its Goodreads page. How was that going to work here, and would things work out in the conventional romance novel sense? I was more than a little curious, to say the least.

The actual experience of reading it was more taxing than I expected it to be. For the first two chapters or so, I was definitely into the book’s vibe. Carla has a talent for description and it shows on the page – her Manila was alive even while covered by a downpour. But once the book shifted to Seoul, I ended up struggling to work my way through the book.

It’s not because it was bad. I’ve never been to Seoul, but it certainly felt like Carla had been there and not just to the touristy parts. Maybe it’s because we’ve been inundated with so much South Korean cultural product that I felt like this was yet another cash-in. A very well-written cash-in, but still a cash-in. The fact that Carla captures the tropes of the K-dramas so perfectly definitely didn’t help shake this feeling off.

Thankfully, Cities takes us to more than just that one city. We get taken to London and New York, and Carla makes those cities come alive like she did Seoul. Both cities really do feel like characters, and not just because place names are sprinkled liberally. Carla takes great care in making sure the people that move in the city – no matter how minor – are as vividly drawn as her main characters, and that’s what gives each location their own specific character and magic.

I also loved the “constants” in each different city – the sunflowers, Tatooine, the Sartorialist. It’s a carefully crafted book, and that definitely deserves some kudos, either for Carla or for the editor who helped whip Cities into shape.  It shows a trust in the readers more than anything – that something that’s a little more complex than your typical romance novel can be accepted by Filipino readers.

It’s the same thing with how the story actually ends. In the least spoiler-y way possible, I can say that it was a happy ending, but maybe not the one that readers may want. It was certainly the only way that this book could end, but it may not be the most satisfying one for a certain type of reader expecting certain types of things.

All in all, Cities is something that one should definitely try out, even if a romance isn’t what they’re usually into. It’s challenging in all the right ways, and for me, equally as rewarding. I’m definitely excited to see what else Carla has to offer in future books.

You can buy Cities on Amazon and Createspace!

You can find out more about Carla on her blog, Tumblr, Ao3 profile, or her Instagram, @ckwhales!

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