Elevate Difference

Colonial Metropolis: The Urban Grounds of Anti-Imperialism and Feminism in Interwar Paris

Interwar Paris conjures up images of romance and renewal. From the ashes and rubble of the First World War, families reunite and rebuild under what seemed to be the end of the most dire of circumstances. Unfortunately, Colonial Metropolis fails to capture this magic, and yet it is an extremely thoughtful and methodical review of the local primary source material available, and would serve as a very strong academic referral source.

The author, Jennifer Anne Boittin, has a clear passion for the subject matter and conveys this well through her enthusiastic descriptions of the characters of the period who populated the anti-colonialism and feminist movements. The problem, for me, stems from the fact that we never feel the interaction between these players. These characters never seem to weave together into the larger story of feminist and anti-colonial activism, the tale that Boittin is seemed so hopeful to tell at the outset of the book.

Boittin lifts directly from the historical record to bring a multitude of characters from this period to life, but none so well as that as Josephine Baker. Pages and pages are dedicated to bringing her tantalizing and mischievous performances to life. Imagine the dedication and zeal of Marina Abramović crossed with the free wheeling sexual spirit of Isadora Duncan. Who wouldn’t want to be warped back to the front row for that show of an old theater in Paris?

With these high sensory moments scattered throughout, readers catch glimpses of the time gone by that was advertised to them, but even the best of these moments failed to sustain me from page to page. Clearly, Boittin’s integrity to the historical record speaks to her virtues as an academic; it just doesn’t make for a particularly interesting read.

Written by: Nicole Levitz, August 2nd 2010