cover image The Palace of Tears

The Palace of Tears

Alev Lytle Croutier. Delacorte Press, $19.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-385-33488-4

A beautiful young woman with arresting eyes, held captive in a 19th-century harem; an insouciant French aristocrat, scion of the famous Ch teauneuf-du-Pape vineyards; the Suez Canal; Empress Eug nie; Louis Vuitton. What do they all have in common? Kismet. In author (Harem: The World Behind the Veil), filmmaker and former Mercury House editor-in-chief Croutier's first novel, lush, sensual writing is enhanced by touches of magical realism and cameo appearances by historical figures. Casimir de Ch teauneuf, 35, is bored with his wife, his children and the family vineyards. He seeks a dream. Stopping one day in a shop displaying bric-a-brac from the Orient, he spies a portrait, a miniature of a young woman in a flowing green caftan embroidered with gold tulips; one of her eyes is blue and the other, yellow. Bewitched by her face, he falls in love; the next day, he sets out to find her. Meanwhile, across the world in Istanbul, in the Palace of Tears (where no man is allowed), the harem slave known as La Poup e (the doll) is dreaming of Casimir. The two lovers are experiencing r ve deux, parallel dreams. Casimir suffers many physical hardships in his travels to find La Poup e, but eventually he returns to Paris, advised by an Antioch seer to ""go back to where [he] started and stand still."" Croutier's dreamy tale explores the issue of destiny and kicks the traditional romance novel up a notch with its smart epigraphs and clever (if ultimately intrusive) historical asides. Though the glossy surface of the narrative has the ability to deflect as well as to attract, readers of Laura Esquivel and Isabel Allende will likely find Croutier's novel a pleasant distraction. The book's small size and odalisque cover should prove a draw, as will blurbs from Allende, Katherine Neville and others. Agent, Bonnie Nadell. (Nov.)