Thursday, June 14, 2012

Passing Love: A Book Review

Jacqueline E. Luckett's novel - Passing Love - is a wonderfully complex and entertaining story that unfolds in post-World War II Paris and the Paris of today. Luckett entices us to the City of Light by developing two seemingly separate story lines - one about a light-skinned colored girl named RubyMae and another about a mature African-American woman named Nicole. Nicole has dreamed about Paris since she was a little girl, while RubyMae is introduced to the idea of seeing the city by a much older lover named Arnett. Each character arrives in Paris and sets out to make the city her own. Each is involved with a man who, in one way or another, is holding her back from reaching what she sees as her full potential.

With RubyMae, who was "born under the sign of dissatisfaction," we experience 1950s Paris. Arnett works the jazz club circuit while Ruby begins to make her own attempts to achieve the fame and fortune she believes she deserves. Nicole takes a month-long vacation in Paris in 2009. She stays in an apartment that Ruby might have coveted - a finely furnished two-story affair with a view of the Seine and the Ile Saint-Louis.

Luckett provides us with powerful glimpses of African-American history and contemporary Diaspora life in Paris throughout the story and weaves them in alongside "traditional" destinations. We visit Haynes Restaurant, Chez Inez, and Barbès just as we visit the Palais Garnier, the Bibliothèque Nationale, and the Rodin Museum. It is amusing that while Luckett is intent on relaying juicy tidbits of African-American history to her readers, Nicole is less than impressed with what she is learning about the subject from various characters who introduce her to the city.

The stories of RubyMae and Nicole eventually converge about midway through the book. Here we learn that the two women are connected - in the most intimate way possible. We then follow Nicole as she doggedly pursues every clue she can find to lead her to Ruby and to the truth of her entire existence.

Passing Love takes its name from the Langston Hughes poem. Luckett includes references to Hughes and his poetry throughout the book as she develops the story of Squire, a man who plays a critical role in the lives of Nicole and Ruby.

What endeared me to this book was not only the vivid way in which Luckett conjures up visions of the French capital, the habits of its residents, and its African-American history, but also her attention to the French language. The language is what drew me to France when I was a child - not food, fashion, or the legendary African-American presence and the myth of a colorblind France. The music of the language is what inspired me to move here. So I was delighted to see Nicole's chapters begin with a short notation about some aspect of the common usage of French and a few vocabulary words, complete with phonetic pronunciations and definitions. Luckett evokes the difficulties that Ruby, Nicole, and other Americans have with the language throughout the book as part of the natural flow of the narrative.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Passing Love and recommend it without hesitation!

Jacqueline Luckett
Photo credit: Ashley Summer

Jacqueline E. Luckett is an avid reader and lover of books, an excellent cook, aspiring photographer, and world traveler. She lives in Northern California and, though she loves all of the friends there, she takes frequent breaks to fly off to foreign destinations. Searching for Tina Turner (2010, Grand Central Publishing) was her first novel.


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