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Black Girl in Paris Hardcover – January 24, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (January 24, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573221511
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573221511
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

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

From Publishers Weekly

Set in 1986, Youngblood's second novel (after Soul Kiss) is a bold if sometimes self-indulgent memoir-style account of an aspiring writer who moves to Paris. Eden is an orphan, adopted and raised by loving parents (themselves orphans), who has been inspired by her independent-minded Aunt Victorine's stories about the freedom that blacks like Josephine Baker and Langston Hughes enjoyed in Paris. Shortly after college graduation, Eden arrives in the French capital, striving to maintain her dignity while working at undignified jobs to pay the rent. Posing nude as an artist's model, and toiling as an au pair and poet's helper cum nurse, she discovers that the foibles of her employers make even the simplest tasks complicated. She feels most free when she is a thief, stealing coins from fountains and graduating to minor theft after hooking up with a nurturing West Indian woman, Lucienne. Luce introduces Eden to many of the hidden pleasures of the city, and when she tells Eden that she's about to move on, Eden realizes that she loves her. Meanwhile, the difficulties of day-to-day life make it nearly impossible for the would-be writer to work on a novel. For inspiration, she navigates the underbelly of Paris, trying to find her literary muse, James Baldwin (rumored to be staying in the city). Many people she meets--including Ving, an androgynous American jazz musician, with whom she has an ambiguous, sexually charged relationship--have anecdotal information about Baldwin, but an introduction to the man proves to be as hard to come by as a warm, clean, cheap apartment. Loose in structure and punctuated with lists of tongue-in-cheek advice for young expatriates, the novel does gradually build momentum, though Youngblood's heavy-handed cultural references weigh it down. Nevertheless, the author tackles well-worn themes with refreshing directness and infuses the novel with unabashed, sometimes unsettling sexuality. 8-city author tour. (Feb.) FYI: Youngblood is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including the Pushcart, several NAACP Theater Awards, the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award and the Astraea Writers' Award.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

Too much of this story seems cliche.
MarvelousMarla
Her experiences in this novel force her to a deeper understanding of her fragile humanity and remind all of us of the dangers inherent in any assumptions.
Alex
Youngblood is able to tell a story, convey her message and leave room for the reader's own experience.
sonja parks

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Dee Dee on March 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I truly enjoyed this book. But woe betide an author who dares to tread on the sacred ground of the Black Expatriate Experience in Paris! How dare she see the same sights and drink at the same cafes in your search for her own experience. The nay-sayers who have phoned in their caustic remarks about this lovely book have completely missed the point. This is not about Baldwin or Wright. They came before. Eden came after. This book addresses the strange relationship one can have to a Black History lived by someone else somewhere else. A strange relationship to your own dreams when those dreams are filtered through the experience of others. Eden comes to appreciate and understand her unique relationship to Paris partly as a result of seeking out what was cliche about it, what was presented to her as "the real Paris" and finding out how little that meant. The impression I got from Eden at the books close is radically different than the expectations she had at its beginning. Anyhow. Decide for yourself. I'm eager to see more work from this talented writer, who dares to stray off the beaten path where "Sista gurl" writers and the Negro Intellectual Elite walk their tired talk.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful By sonja parks on February 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For readers more comfortable with "microwave literature", that method of storytelling which gives quick and compact packets feelings and reactions, Shay Youngblood's "Black Girl in Paris" will frustrate and confuse. For the rest of us, the novel is a tender, poignant, story filled with beautiful images of a young woman's experience. Youngblood's writing style lingers on the palate and invites the reader to roll the story around on the tongue and savor each word. Moved as I was by Youngblood's first novel, "Soul Kiss", I anxiously awaited her second attempt and she does not disappoint. From the first sentence to the last, I was swept up in Eden's experiences in Paris and the awakening of her own artistic presence.
"Black Girl in Paris" is a beautiful novel by a gifted writer with a unique talent. Youngblood is able to tell a story, convey her message and leave room for the reader's own experience. All of which make for a truly engaging read and an appreciation for a writer that does not consider her audience too inept to "get it".
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By MarvelousMarla VINE VOICE on February 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
I wanted to like this book, really I did, but it was just too circuitous. Not only that, I never really got a feel for the protoganist. We know that Eden is an orphan and an aspiring writer. We see that she really admires James Baldwin to the point that she seems to want to recreate his experience, but what of Eden the young woman? She just seems confused to me -- about life, her sexuality and whether she really wants to or can be a writer. We see more of Eden working her odd jobs than writing. One of the more offensive scenes occurs when she's working as a poet's helper and is giving her disabled client a bath. What was the point of us learning that Eden allowed the old lady to get her rocks off while she washed between her legs? How did that advance the story?
Too much of this story seems cliche. Eden is a struggling artist trying to eke out a living in Paris surrounded by a cast of nationalists, philosphopers and debauchees. Parts of the novel are interesting, particularly the portions dealing with the constant threat of terrorism and the resulting xenophobia, but there was too much that was just silly and unrealistic. Eden conveniently manages to befriend people who can put her up and feed her when she's broke. First it's a young french woman she meets on the plane, then it's an old (and similarly broke) ex patriate who lives off friends and strangers, then a odd bajan woman with whom Eden falls in love.
I was determined to finish this book because I kept hoping that it would get eventually get better. It didn't, and I doubt that I'll try this author again. I'm no fan of the "Waiting to Exhale" genre, but at least those stories tend to have a plot and a sequence of events that you can follow. And those lists -- 7 rules for living, How to be a Poet's Helper etc., were really tiresome.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jasmine on March 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book by Shay Youngblood has got me doing a little daydreaming. I actually read it while I was on a business flight to Paris, and by the time I reached, I found myself looking for places that the author so vividly described. Not that I was using the book as a pseudo map, but I was also nibbling on her savory, poetic words. I especially enjoyed the fact that the narrator's experiences were so unpredictable yet so entertaining. I anticipated what the next sentence, paragraph and chapter held . Besides my enthusiasm with this novel, I was totally disturbed at the thought of an old, sickly woman getting off in a bath tub as the narrator washed and stroked her area. I outed my incense right then and there. It would've been more erotic if it had been a younger person---say that bajan girl that she fell inlove with. I think the lesbian attraction between the narrator and her bajan friend should've been more pronounced. I liked the steamy bath house scene, but by the time things seem to be getting a little too hot, it cooled off, leaving me hanging like how a delayed orgasm would. Nevertheless, it was subtle and very sensuous. Overall, I'm quite impressed with Youngblood's talent. I'm truely looking forward to her next book.
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