Black Girl in Paris, Shay Youngblood, Riverhead Books, 2000, 232 pp
Before I went to Paris, I wanted to read some fiction set in the City of Light. I searched the library catalogue for contemporary fiction set in Paris and this is one of the books that came up. Otherwise I would possibly never have heard of or read this excellent novel. I read it the week before I went. It is just the sort of book I love: a bit quirky with exquisite writing and an admirable heroine.
Eden is an orphan, found in a paper bag as an infant by the poor black couple who kept her and raised her. She grows up and gets educated with a dream to be a writer. She is fascinated by black artists who had gone to Paris for a respite from racism: James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Josephine Baker, and the many jazz musicians who found acceptance and freedom there.
At the age of 26, she sets out for Paris with $200. It is 1986 and terrorism by immigrants is killing people daily in the streets. Eden is looking for freedom to create and freedom from fear. She is courageous and open, surviving by her wits, finding friends and working as an artist's model, a poet's helper, an au pair, just to make enough to eat.
This is a creative coming-of-age tale written as a poetic memoir, in the great black female writing tradition of Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Jamaica Kincaid and Alice Walker.