Author: Shay Youngblood
Published 2000 Riverhead Books
238pp. 9781573221511. $23.95US, $33.99CAN
African-American Fiction, Coming of Age/Bildungsroman
Available in print and eBook
Why I Read It
I received Black Girl in Paris as a recommendation on Goodreads from a librarian friend/co-worker. I trust her, though the book sat in my recommendations queue for a bit. I didn’t really think too hard about what the story was about when I finally got around to reading it. I’m a bit of a sucker for stories about people finding themselves and their purpose in the world. It is a conversation I have with myself often, and I enjoy reading books about characters who have found and are finding theirs.
Eden desperately wants to be writer like James Baldwin, so she sets off to Paris to find him.
We begin with Eden, a young twenty-something, newly arrived in Paris, France, searching for James Baldwin. She wants to be a writer, but she doesn’t know what to write. But Jimmy does, and Eden wants his help. Soaking in the ambiance of France, but running low on money, Eden searches for a job. At times, her search is rewarded. Other times, she is left struggling. A series of lovers and states of being, teach Eden what it means to be woman, writer, and a black girl in Paris. Eden never meets James Baldwin, though she sees and connects with him briefly across a busy street. Her dreams of becoming a writer, though, are fulfilled in a way she doesn’t expect.
Here’s what I think
At times raw and unflinching, other times hazy beyond belief. Black Girl in Paris could be about anyone, at any time, struggling to find their place in the world. It felt as though Eden’s purpose was consistently lost in the shuffle of life and hunger, even as she tried to hold it at the forefront of her mind. Her experiences, as lover, thief, au pair, and artist’s model, keep her clothed and fed, and in no small measure of love. Yet still she pursues her dreams of being a writer, taking comfort in the knowledge that she is charting a course on her internal map to James Baldwin and personal happiness.
Youngblood gives just enough pre-Paris story for reader’s to understand why Baldwin takes on a God-like persona for Eden. Though we only see him briefly, he is the sole reason Eden did not give up even at her poorest. The cast of characters that surround Eden, even unto the tertiary characters of Eden’s employers, have a purpose in the narrative. It cannot have been easy to breathe life into them, as they are seen so briefly. The same cannot be said of Paris. Paris is like an additional character in the story. The place and time situated just so to both extol its praises and expose its horrors.
Though it is now one of my favorite books, I never would have found it if not for my librarian friend. It is easy to see oneself in Eden, that desperate search for self, straining to achieve that one thing that will make you feel whole.
4Q–Better than most, marred by occasional lapses.
3.5P–Read it because the book club was reading it
Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus
The Just City, Jo Walton
The Story Sisters, Alice Hoffman
Right From Wrong, Cindy Bonner
Leisurely, character-driven, strong sense of place, bittersweet
Book talk ideas
Mason Dimple’s love letters p.28
A revelation and a sign p.30-34
7 rules for living p.44
How to love a woman p.84
Eden and Luce p.190
How to be a whore (if all else fails) p.201-202
The hammam p.210-216
Book discussion questions
1) Eden’s story is separated into labels for who she is at that moment in time. How do labels help orient us in our world and sense of self? How do they hinder us?
2) Eden holds jobs and ‘jobs’, including, at one point, the oldest profession in human history, in her search for Jimmy. Do you think she was fulfilled by any of them? Why or why not?
3) France was wracked by terrorist attacks and threats in the late ’80s. Fear and racism against all immigrants was rampant throughout the country. Olu-Christophe, Eden’s friend and Haitian exile, is arrested and carted off never to be heard from again. How does this effect Eden and her purpose?
4) Many of Eden’s experiences are accompanied by a lover. Indego, Luce, Ving, Charlotte. Which of these lovers was the most wrong for her? What did each teach her?
Clues to the Future
adult books for young adults, Paris, writer, Black Girl in Paris, Shay Youngblood, searching for James Baldwin, France, made into a short film, Eden
Awards, Lists, and Interesting Facts
It was turned into a short film of the same name, distributed by HBO.
Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews
Author website: http://www.shayyoungblood.com/
Peace Corps Writers Interview: http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/pages/2000/0007/007talkyngbld.html
The New York Times Review: https://www.nytimes.com/books/00/01/23/reviews/000123.23haynest.html
Publisher’s Weekly Review: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-57322-151-1
Salon Review: http://www.salon.com/2000/02/16/youngblood/
Peace Corps Writers Review: http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/pages/2000/0007/007rvblkgrl.html