Travel Lit: Black Girl In Paris


Disclaimer: I am in no way responsible for sudden urges to check prices for round-the-world flights, the sudden desire to quit one’s job and move to Paris, or any other passport-required epiphany you may experience after reading about Eden’s escapades in Paris.  However, I can’t deny that my heart would smile just a little at the thought of such an adventure 🙂

Another fun way to be exposed to new cities, cultures, and experiences is through books. So on my blog I will try to incorporate books and book reviews about students or young adults in new, international places. (Although I must admit I don’t know of very many).  You may have never wanted to visit a place until you see it from someone’s eyes who’s actually there. What I love about travel literature is that it allows me to “visit” Paris (or Italy, or Australia, or Morocco, or Rio) even when I can’t.

I’ll review a couple of the books here. First up: Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood.

I just started the book today so until I finish, here’s the review from Amazon.com: 

Amazon.com Review

Any writer who makes a writer the protagonist of a novel is just asking for trouble. If the protagonist in question is a young African American woman in Paris, following in the footsteps of such well-known black expatriates as Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, and James Baldwin, it’s double jeopardy. And yet in Black Girl in Paris, Shay Youngblood manages to avoid clichés even as she steers a course straight through them. In the fall of 1986, Eden, 25 years old and anxious “to be the kind of woman who was bold, took chances and had adventures,” buys a ticket to Paris and arrives with $200, determined to re-create for herself the life of a bygone era. She finds the requisite cheap and dingy room–in the Latin Quarter, of course–and low-paying job that all American expatriate artistic wannabes from Hughes to Hemingway must have in order to live the dream. She meets a circle of like-minded compatriots, has an affair with a white jazz musician, and all the while keeps her eye on the prize: a meeting with Baldwin himself. What saves this novel from being a retread of all the portraits of artists as young men and women in Paris that have gone before is Youngblood’s conscious invocations of Eden’s predecessors, of the bohemian lifestyle, of Paris itself. These are not, she suggests, the things themselves, but rather the romantic imaginings of a young woman who has pinned her hopes and ambitions on stories she’s read and heard thirdhand.
(Keep reading for the rest of the review.)
 The reality of Eden’s Paris soon sets in, however. Terrorists have besieged France; bombs are going off all over the city and the French don’t seem quite as welcoming to people of color as they were back in the ’30s and ’40s. In fact, this Paris is a violent, frightening place:

Policemen beat to death a twenty-year-old student Malik Oussekine at the end of peaceful student demonstrations. I pray for the safety of my artist friend Malik and the soul of the student who had been murdered. To make the students seem dangerous and deserving of excessive force, the police had stood by looking on encouraging thugs to loot stores and burn cars.

But Eden stays on, and everywhere she finds traces of James Baldwin in the recollections of people who have met him. The hope that if she meets him she’ll “learn from him some kind of secret about love and life and writing” keeps her going. Memories of the past mix with hopes for the future, until in the novel’s denouement, when Eden makes a surprising discovery about herself. Black Girl in Paris is both a loving homage to Shay Youngblood’s literary forebears, and a subtle reminder to her contemporaries that while we may learn from the past, we make our own future. –Sheila Bright –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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8 thoughts on “Travel Lit: Black Girl In Paris

    • Lol! It’s hard to find in bookstores for some reason. I had to get a copy from the library – but I get all my books from the library unless I KNOW it’s going to be worth the buy…after I read it, if I want to support the author and add it to my library, THEN I go buy it lol. Sad I know…

  1. This is my favorite book in LIFE. Dead serious. I wish I could figure out where to buy a brand new copy for my library b/c the one I have is worn out from the many times I’ve read it. Plus the cover is just gorgeous.

    Random: I emailed Shay Youngblood a while back to tell her how much this book means to me, and she responded thanking me and saying that it was a labor of love. I really wish it was more widely read by young women.

  2. I think I heard about this book from you! Way back when I used to use goodreads religiously lol. Why is it so hard to get a hold of??? It’s a grreeaatt read…and one of the few (only????) books I’ve found about a black girl abroad (that’s worth reading anyway) – of course I would love to be corrected if that’s wrong.

  3. I heard about this book from Mlle Mitchell and now you, I guess I really need to read it! This is the only one I’ve seen about a Black girl abroad which is ironic because there were a number of us from HU all over the world. Ah well, that just means we all need to write a book about our overseas escapades!

      • This could be an exciting venture.! Melissa and I have talked about doing a book on day since we were abroad. We should maybe start with a series right here on your blog with posts (that could maybe be short stories or essays) on experiences abroad. Have you heard of Glimpse (http://glimpse.org)? That might be a great place to scope out some black women who are abroad and willing to share their stories! And of course, we can start with ourselves. I know I have a few blog posts from my travel blog I could spruce up!

  4. im down! let’s take this convo to email or something and figure something out! I know about 5 other black women who studied abroad the same year we did and will probably be willing to contribute. I’ll check out glimpse as well…gettin excited!

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