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Read an interview with Shay Youngblood

by Shay Youngblood (Dominica 1981)
Riverhead Books, $23.95
238 pages

Reviewed by Laura Bice (Macedonia 1998–99)

SHAY YOUNGBLOOD'S SECOND NOVEL, Black Girl in Paris, is a beauty. It is lyrical in voice and language like her first novel, Soul Kiss. Recently, after hearing Ms. Youngblood read, I put my life on hold and picked up her new novel — and finished reading it 24 hours later.
     Black Girl in Paris is a coming of age story about a smart, young girl named Eden who boldly states in the first chapter, “I’m not afraid of anything.” Embracing the courage and determination of this young woman’s adventuresome spirit to buy a one-way ticket to Paris, I flipped pages wondering what would become of her.
     For RPCVs, there are many similarities in the journey Eden takes to Paris and the journeys we took. The bagfull of dreamy expectations about a host country, the way people behave, the way it simply feels to be a foreigner resonate in Black Girl in Paris.
     After arriving on a cold, gray and disgusting day in Macedonia, I found myself asking, “is this what it feels like to be in Macedonia as a Peace Corps Volunteer?”
     Eden many times has to remind herself of the same thing in France. She is following her dream to live in Paris, following, too, in the footsteps of some of her mentors, most notably, James Baldwin. Along the way, Eden learns many lessons and is forced to make sacrifices of her own personal dignity.
     She takes jobs that she wouldn’t put on her “dream job” list, but does so out of a need to survive. Much of this book chronicles these "alternative" modes of employment. And each chapter is named after her new professional exploit. The jobs stretch the gamut: museum guide, traveling companion, artist’s model, au pair, poet’s helper, lover, English teacher, and thief. Throughout, she is challenged to reinvent herself, and forced to question and reassess the core of her being.
     Moving from job to job, Eden explores issues of who to trust, where her sexuality lies, and what it is really like to be black in Paris? Much of her journey is focused on her desire to write, to prove that she can write, and that she can somehow rub up against the talent of other fellow Black writers by following in their footsteps.
     Shay Youngblood took a similar trip to Paris as a young girl and this story could be mistaken for memoir. Regardless of how accurate these accounts are, this novel is a tale of the vibrant spirit of a strong young woman. It is a testament of the adaptability of the human spirit and how our path of survival pushes us to become more resilient.
Laura Bice currently is surviving in New York City by working at the New York Peace Corps Recruitment Office. She is still searching for her “dream job.”
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