You Should Have Come Here When You Were Not Here, by Brannavan Gnanalingam
During WWII German soldiers stationed in Paris complained that it did not live up to their expectations. Parisians made a simple reply: ‘you should have come here when you were not here’.
You Should Have Come Here When You Were Not Here is furnished with rich historical anecdotes and offers a fresh take on Paris through the subtlety of Gnanalingam’s compelling second-person narrative.
“Paris has been written and filmed and depicted so lovingly that it is almost trapped in amber. What I found was very different: a segregated, austere, and above all, disorientating place,” said Gnanalingam. “Perhaps its bloody history and the darkness of French literature at its best wasn't just coincidence.”
The book is centred on Veronica, a New Zealander in her mid-30s and a journalist going nowhere. She decides to move to Paris, believing the city will change her life. She is surprised, but not in the way she expected: Paris is indifferent to her.
“I wanted to subvert the romantic notion that you can travel somewhere and expect the city to bend over backwards to accommodate you. Indifference and impotence are almost built into the grand boulevards and cobbled medieval streets.”
“The narrator’s wry honesty, miles away from the usual Africa travelogue clichés, and the inherent humour of the events are both lifted by Gnanalingam’s knack for the striking image. Some thought-provoking unsentimental reflections on travel and belonging round out this unique, beguiling effort.” —NZ Listener