Giovanni's Room (Vintage International)

James Baldwin
Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin's now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.


Reviewed: 2021-08-08
This is a devastating book. It is beautiful in its stylistic simplicity and thematic complexity. Yet what stands out most is the tragedy of it all, the love, the hatred, the heartbreak, the shame. The knowledge of the ultimate tragedy is bestowed on us from the very beginning, which from a weaker writer might cheapen the sorrow but which in this case only makes it more potent.
Perhaps it is a book about the horror of love. How can you ever love somebody enough? Can love ever lead to anything other than agony, other than death? But, really, I think it is a book about the absolute necessity of complete love: "'Love him,' said Jacques, with vehemence, 'love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters? And how long, at the best, can it last? since you are both men and still have everywhere to go? Only five minutes, I assure you, only five minutes, and most of that, hélas! in the dark. And if you think of them as dirty, they will be dirty - they will be dirty because you will be giving nothing, you will be despising your flesh and his. But you can make your time together anything but dirty; you can give each other something which will make both of you better - forever - if you will not be ashamed, if you will only not play it safe" (57).
And that, quite possibly, is it. Because, cloaked in shame, David does not lose himself in the love he has for Giovanni. He is so ashamed of himself, so horrified of himself, that he only allows for a certain amount of love before he cuts it off - the ultimate result being that he has neither the man he loves nor the woman he at the very least least can have beside him.
Of course, Baldwin's thematic exploration is not only concerned with love and shame. This book is also about home, belonging, youth, masculinity, femininity, motherhood, national identity, class, and so much more. But it is a love story (a tragic one, but a love story nonetheless) - one whose injustice and cruelty might just be impossible to recover from. Why can't these two people have their love and keep it? Why can't the world at least offer them peace with one another? Why can't love be enough?
So I suppose that at the end of it all what it really inspires is rage, because the tragedy is so raw and so unjustifiable that there is nothing else to feel. There's so much more to say which will probably materialize as I think about it more. But this is just brilliant, I think.
Reviewed: 2019-04-27

"The end of innocence is also the end of guilt"

freaking heartbreaking! 

One question - why did Baldwin feel he must make the characters white? Because if they were black nobody would be able to see past that? Probably.

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