Black Girl in Paris

Shay Youngblood, Author Riverhead Books $23.95 (300p) ISBN 978-1-57322-151-1
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.
Reviewed on: 01/03/2000
Release date: 01/01/2000
Hardcover - 978-1-57322-869-5
Paperback - 238 pages - 978-1-57322-851-0
Prebound-Sewn - 978-0-606-20571-9
Paperback - 258 pages - 978-1-4818-2490-3
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