An Abridged Letter From Paris -Eric Miyeni's book Review

While Eric Miyeni's travelogue is a beautifully written piece of literary journalism, if fails at crucial moments. It is a very strong narrative which exposes the author's good command of the English language and his flaws in an attempt to make sense of French, as a language (3/10). I believe that the score for language suggests that there is always room for improvement, given that this is not the author's mother tongue. The editing of this book is brilliant and has put an extra coat on the vocabulary flaws that even without the benefit of having seen the draft, would have been glaring.

Notably, writing about a city is a difficult undertaking since it's one take of a well-known fixed subject. So, to believe that Miyeni's book is based only on-location observation and answers generated during conversations would be a disservice to this genre. Accuracy of some information seels off the fact that he must have spent sizeable time doing research both here and in France. So, on that aspect, it is informed nto only by his visit to Paris but what others have already written on the subject before.

The form is not consistent as at times one is lost to the possibility that the text is informed by pictures or vice versa. While he makes it flow it is that question about why some pictures are there that make it an attempt at a photographic book with commentary. This is not a book about amateur photography but is sold as a photographic book with text. The photographs would have been excellent if there was an artistic touch to them. It makes no sense of the author touching a lot on the issue of red jackets while nobody sees such. It's pointless to title a picture 'Another red jacket' (pg 71) while the reader sees black. His touch of French art, architecture and culture is obviously informed by the Piper.

It has an appeal, not only South African but universal as well. It reminds one of the writings of Bongani Madondo. The truth is that one needs to fall in love with a subject before they can do justice to its aesthetic. Miyeni fell in love with Paris, but as he told a South Afrikan newspaper, he doesn't do poverty tours, which means he deliberately opted to present a distorted picture of Paris. For a man who protested doing poverty tours one wonders why Queer tours were a marvel.

I would protest that Miyeni's book enhances any social cohesion due to his uninformed comparison of the suffering of Afrikan slaves during the Passage, Blacks under Apartheid and the Holocaust. For the book to make a claim that the Holocaust was worse simply because the victims have been documented is absurd. Pain is not a comparative feeling/emotion. The small plaque (pg 52) at what used to be the border into Ciskei of people butchered during the attempted takeover of the bantustan by the SACP/ANC group spark the same saddening one feels at Matola (Mozambique0 and the Apartheid Museum. I think to elevate Jewish pain above that of other races is the drawback of this travelogue's attempt at social cohesion.

The creativity in this book is stumped by lack of colour, though minimal I would still rasie the issue of sub-titling a picture which tells a different story. A picture is a storyteller and any attempt to play proxy must be informed. I believe the arrangement does not flow. Dotting a map of Paris would have produced Miyeni's wild goose chase through a city he chose not to explore.

The voice he chooses to narrate is loud, sometimes too loud to accommodate subjects he introduces us to whose voice he wants us to hear. Thus, Miyeni could remedy by not appearing to be all-knowing. He's got excellent writing skills that are often dwarfed by his ego which he massages at every turn.

His level of analysis leaves a lot to be desired. Most is informed by secondary sources as with the artwork and architecture. He however makes a strong socio-political point about preservation of landmark sites such as Kapitans in Johannesburg (pg 77). However his level of criticism can be allocated 5/10 points. Miyeni is irked by a club brawl that degenerates into a street fight and his response is on point as he raises the issue of zero police visibility, a complaint Europeans would make about countries such as South Afrika. His review of the subject matter is quite brilliant but often the language creates a barrier as any tool of mass communication should shy away from techno-speak and jargon.

The author tries to be objective - but the Piper has other ideas.

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