Paris, all gloss and glamor, has a rough edge that visitors seldom see. In her memoir,How to Die in Paris: A Memoir, the young traveler, Naturi Thomas, exposes that darker side after spending nearly a month wandering the streets homeless, nearly penniless and falling in with whatever ill-suited company she can – only to survive until she can fulfill her mission – to commit suicide.

What sounds like a deeply depressing story is by turns a funny, compelling and compassionate triumph. The words unfold with a crackling cynicism and surprising humor. Chapters are juxtaposed – some exposing a family history that underlies her tumultuous circumstances; others with her adventures in the not-so-light-filled city, drawing us in to share each bone-chilling, shattering, foggy breath as she walks and walks the streets looking for rest and options.

Apart from the more famous Parisian icons of baguettes and the Eiffel Tower, there is an underlying universalism and recognition of the ‘invisible,’ homeless wanderers walking every metropolis. Thomas forces us to see without Hollywood drama, platitudes or the offer of trite resolutions. By the turning of the last page, she finds herself with a shift in her sense of personal responsibility. We feel, as she does, a shared thread of vulnerability with immigrants, struggling students and the frailly employed, that was denied when she wandered alone, hungry, exhausted and cold.

Naturi finds renewal through generosity borne by honesty and uncovering a past that was once too horrible to see clearly. The healing that comes with acknowledgement draws her back from the ledge of suicide. Enlightenment comes through the embrace of an innocent child – who and where that toddler is from takes a book to unveil.

How to Die in Paris: A Memoir, is an easy read but not an easy book and certainly not a fluffy, travel memoir for a fanciful tourist. It is however a piercing look at a city too often polished by expectation and imagination. There is much to learn here and I am happy to recommend this latest edition from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, and a forum for women writers and feminist issues.

Elaine J. Masters

Travel writer, co-host of San Diego Travel Massive.

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