May 16, 2016

Book Review: The Flâneur by Edmund White

A flâneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the streets he walks - and is in covert search of adventure, aesthetic or erotic. Acclaimed writer Edmund White, who lived in Paris for sixteen years, wanders through the avenues and along the quays, into parts of the city virtually unknown to visitors and indeed to many locals, luring the reader into the fascinating and seductive backstreets of his personal Paris.

The Flâneur is subtitled “A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris,” thus signaling that despite the title, there is very little actual walking in this book. The stroll is more of a symbolic one, as White wanders in and out of the varied histories of the City of Light. White writes about Baudelaire, Colette, the present “heirs” of the French throne and the marginalized minority groups such as the Blacks, Jews, Arabs and even gays.  At first I was disappointed that there wasn’t more physical wandering described; however, I grew to appreciate White’s perspective and insights about topics not usually covered in other books about Paris.  

“…Paris, land of novelty and distraction, is the great city of the flâneur – that aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps.”

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