The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose (♦♦♦♦)

Robbie L’Etoile, the last generation of a long line of perfumers, finds in his father’s workshop shards of an ancient Egyptian jar that he presumes contained a fragrance to remember past lives. Robbie has a trained nose, but it is Jac, his sister, who has an inherent ability to smell a perfume and know what its ingredients are. Thus, Robbie travels from Paris to New York, where Jac lives, to try to convince her to help him recreate the lost fragrance.

Meanwhile, the House of L’Etoile is facing financial ruin and selling the ancient jar to an avid reincarnationist friend would improve L’Etoile family’s finances, but Robbie is resolute on deciphering the hieroglyphics engraved on the shards--that appear to reveal a story of soul mates that have met throughout time—and give the shards and its translation as a present to the Dalai Lama.

Through all this, Robbie is confronted by a member of the Chinese Triad in Paris, who has orders to stop Robbie from giving the memory tool to the Dalai Lama. When Robbie takes the life of this Mafioso to prevent him from taking his, and later disappears under mysterious circumstances, Jac has no choice but to fly to Paris and accept the help of a former lover whom she never forgot.

I liked this book very much. It is compulsively readable. It flows and draws you in like a pleasant dream. It is marvelously narrated, described effortlessly and beautifully. The literary images are well constructed and evoke memories from the reader. I did like the premises of the book: it is about family legends and tragedies, broken dreams, forgotten life paths, soul mates and reincarnation at the center of it all, brought about by an ancient fragrance.

While I believe in soul mates, karma, sacrifice and letting go of someone so both people can achieve the best they can apart, I’m not sure I believe in reincarnation, so the main plot seemed far-fetched to me; however, the descriptions of fragrances, memories and places are so vivid that I couldn’t stop reading. Despite its beauty, The Book of Lost Fragrances is neither haunting nor unforgettable. The characters aren’t magnetic enough to make us care for them; it is ultimately the story that wins us through.

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