Why LA? Pourquoi Paris? is both entertaining and illuminating. At least we found it so.
The creation of Diane Ratican, a businesswoman from Los Angeles and environs with a love of Paris, this very unusual book includes her narrative and the illustrations of a Frenchman, Eric Giriat, and an Ameican, Nick Lu.
To some, comparing Los Angeles to Paris might seem ludicrous. It did to this reviewer, a third-generation Northern Californian who has savored several visits to Paris.
But I have less familiarity with either of these cities than does Ratican. After the first 20 or 30 pages I suspected she might have insights I lacked. Another 20 or 30 pages and I was sure of it.
After some introductory explanations about both places, she discusses aspects of these major world cities in seven separate sections, such as Cityscapes & Landmarks Magnifiques, Fashion Style & Shopping a la Mode, Sports & Leisure and Cuisine and Dining. The interconnectedness of both cities seems flow naturally. Part of this is due to the narrative which is presented in both English and French in parallel form in adjacent columns. Quotes from people of note--not necessarily about either city, but appropriate to highlight a perspective—are also included and are often dropped over the illustrations of Lu and Giriat. Those illustrations are done in a disarmingly simple style. To describe them as at least a somewhat whimsical wouldn’t minimize their quality. They are a very significant part of a volume that may encourage readers who travel to ponder thoughts never before considered. Seeming similarities and contradictions appear quite logical and are visual extensions of the two languages both separating and drawing together these cities.
Is Why La? Porquoi Paris? a guide book? We’d have to say yes and emphatically so, though not in the typical sense of explaining how far the museums might be from the train station and listing best spots to change money. For travelers contemplating a first trip to either of these cities the book can preface the journey in the big picture sense. For those who’ve experienced Los Angeles or Paris, it might evoke memories and add some nuance and perspective to those memories.
--reviewed by Dan Clarke