[S]ometimes The Only Street in Paris seems less driven by flâneuring than by another French specialty: the morality tale. This one’s purpose is to explain how people from different backgrounds can (within limits) transcend their pasts and become friends. As Ms. Sciolino puts it, life on the Rue des Martyrs first just 'involved transactions' but then 'extended to experiences shared.' That may sound corny. But Ms. Sciolino...makes the transformation touching by connecting it to her roots.
While deft at evoking the pleasures of 'a fine Burgundy, a Mont d’Or cheese so creamy it is best eaten with a spoon,' Ms. Sciolino is less persuasive at defining the dark hand of globalization and explaining to what degree—if any—the rue des Martyrs should be protected from competition.
The narrative takes the form of a ramble through shops, courtyards, cabarets, and time, revealing a street somewhat unique but also representative, in the polite but exacting attitudes and customs of its inhabitants. Sciolino’s sharply observed account serves as a testament to the persistence of old Paris—the city of light, of literature, of life itself.
Sciolino doesn’t lack for inspiration; she has Paris at her feet. Her facts are intriguing and skillfully woven together, but perhaps in their tight weave the author misses a looser, sensory feeling of Paris, a city defined as much by its superficial smells and sounds and visual dichotomies as it is by its deep and often dark history.