Travel Lit Review: Black Girl in Paris

It took me a while to finish this book (Click here for the original post and Amazon review). Not because it wasn’t good (it was grrreaat a la Tony, our favorite Tiger), but because I have reading A.D.D.  I start dozens of books – all within a week. And I have had a couple of trips in the midst of it too, but I’m notorious for leaving a library book on a plane, in a hotel, at a restaurant so I didn’t take it with me.  Although it would have been excellent plane reading for that 9-hr flight to Amsterdam. Anyway, here goes. My take on Black Girl in Paris:

First of all, I know this book is considered a fiction novel, but the details and the pure “rawness” of Youngblood’s descriptions have you wondering just how thin that line is between fact and fiction.  Her writing is beautiful, often poetic, but at the same time so very real.  Just by reading some of the notes about the author we know that quite a bit of it is based on the author’s life: Youngblood traveled to Paris, was an au pair (fancy word for nanny), artists’ model, and poet’s helper – just like the protagonist Eden.  And even if we didn’t have that particular footnote, some of the details Youngblood uses just couldn’t be made up.

This book literally had my jaw dropping at some of the adventurous escapades Eden takes us on.  Other parts had my head nodding in total agreement because I can relate to some of her experiences as a black girl in Europe, more so as a black girl just wanting to travel.  Eden goes to Paris to follow in the footsteps of many other great African-American writers – Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and the elusive James Baldwin whom Eden tirelessly attempts to track down for just the slightest slimmer of inspiration.  She so fittingly describes a story as a “map.” Of her journey to Paris she says “I’ll make maps so other people can get there too, adventurers like me.” And that’s really what it’s all about.  Shay Youngblood, Black Women in Europe, ME! – we’re all attempting to write our own maps to share with you.  It reminds me of this Aldous Huxley quote related to creating your own guidebook that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  Get out there and take what you want out of life (as Eden’s aunt instructed her when she found out about her desires to go to Paris), make your own maps, don’t follow someone else’s plan.

The thing I love about travel literature in general, and Black Girl In Paris, in particular is its double entendre quality.  You could say that the purpose of this novel was to tell a great story, which it did.  But at the same time you could say that it is an attempt to inspire others to follow in Eden’s footsteps.  Only after re-reading parts of the story did I remember that reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin “lit a fire” in her – the simple act of reading a book pushed her across the threshold from desiring a life in Paris to making reservations for a one-way flight.  Just like Giovanni’s Room inspired her, Black Girl in Paris can be someone else’s catalyst.

The other admirable aspect of Black Girl in Paris (and again, with most travel literature) is it’s ability to serve as a tour guide and to introduce ideas, monuments, landmarks, activities, historical events and so much more that are particular to a specific place and time.  Never had I been so vividly introduced to Turkish baths.  I never would have imagined getting a job as an artists’ model or as a poet’s helper.  I was also briefed on the terrorism and racial tension of the time and what it’s like to be a Black American – a minority of a minority – in Paris while comparing it to my experience in Milan. You also learn little secrets that can help you if you ever decide to live or travel abroad.  But I won’t divulge those, you’ll just have to check out the book and read it yourself! Trust me, it’s worth it.

Stars: 4/5

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8 thoughts on “Travel Lit Review: Black Girl in Paris

  1. Four stars! hmph (I’m acting like I’m Shay Youngblood! lol)

    This book is exactly what lit a fire under me my freshman year in college when I decided to study abroad. I already has a small flame there but this book practically made me catch fire! What I love most about Eden is how much of myself (and presumably other young women felt the same way) I found in her. My favorite quote is at the beginning of the novel when she introduces the map-making theme and she talks about how she cut off her hair to be a free woman with free thoughts. That paragraph is forever a part of me.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, however in my world this book is a 10 out of 5! 😉

  2. Hello! This is Tara Melissa, we had a brief conversation at the Black Weblog Awards website. I wanted to contact you, but I couldn’t find your email, so here is mine: xoxotaratara [at] gmail [dot] com. 🙂

  3. Vaivia: Thank you for putting this review of my novel Black Girl in Paris on your blog, It made my day. The novel inspired a young filmmaker to make a short film based on a section of the novel. Director Kiandra Parks is in Miami at the American Black Film Festival where Black Girl in Paris is a finalist in the HBO short film competition. For more info see the blog on my website http://shayyoungblood.com/blog/ Peaceful travels. Shay Youngblood

    • Thanks so much for stopping by, Shay! I remember hearing when it was being filmed so happy to hear that it’s finally ready to show. I hope to be able to see it soon!

  4. Thank you for this review! I’m going to check the book out.

    I’m so glad that i’ve come across this blog! I’m starting from your oldest entry to the newest. And I thought that I was the only one who felt so strongly about the black community needing to travel/study abroad/ more and open up to international experiences. I’ve never done anything with my passion. But this blog is giving me great ideas and organizations to support! It looks like your latest entry was in 2013. I hope that you’ll still write some more. Until then I’ll keep reading!

    • Hi Sarah Dee! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      I have been so delinquent with my blog. I’m shocked that people are even still finding it haha! But so glad that you were able to find something relevant and hopefully it will inspire you to put some of your ideas to action. I keep telling myself I’m going to start writing again, but life just takes over!

      Keep me posted on your next moves!

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