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The Fire Next Time Paperback – December 1, 1992
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Baldwin's seething insights and directives, so disturbing to the white liberals and black moderates of his day, have become the starting point for discussions of American race relations: that debasement and oppression of one people by another is "a recipe for murder"; that "color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality"; that whites can only truly liberate themselves when they liberate blacks, indeed when they "become black" symbolically and spiritually; that blacks and whites "deeply need each other here" in order for America to realize its identity as a nation.
Yet despite its edgy tone and the strong undercurrent of violence, The Fire Next Time is ultimately a hopeful and healing essay. Baldwin ranges far in these hundred pages--from a memoir of his abortive teenage religious awakening in Harlem (an interesting commentary on his first novel Go Tell It on the Mountain) to a disturbing encounter with Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad. But what binds it all together is the eloquence, intimacy, and controlled urgency of the voice. Baldwin clearly paid in sweat and shame for every word in this text. What's incredible is that he managed to keep his cool. --David Laskin
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Baldwin dissects the nature of Black-White relations in the early sixties. He rejects the both the pandering of White liberals and the separatist rhetoric of Black radicals as simplistic; the former as condescending and insincere and the latter as unrealistic and reactionary. The conclusion that he reaches is that Blacks and Whites, whether they realize it or not, are locked in a symbiotic relationship, and destruction for one will mean destruction for both. Put positively, however, the key to their salvations are linked. No one is free until all are free.
Baldwin focuses on two important anecdotes. The first deals with his seduction by the church, his brief career as a child minister, and his subsequent rejection of Christianity. The second deals with an encounter with Elijah Muhammad, then leader of the Nation of Islam. Both show religion as an escape mechanism, and both are told with a convincing immediacy and a sense of candor.
Baldwin's rejection of Christianity appears to be a crucial step in his awakening, and in his rejection of the beliefs that 60's White society expected Black people to hold. The church for Baldwin was an escape mechanism, but having been consoled he soon fled the church, overwhelmed by its hypocrisy and abuses, both historical and current. He concludes "...whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being...Read more ›
Baldwin frames his observations around two thematically related biographical episodes: his brief three-year stint as an adolescent Pentecostal preacher in Harlem in the early 1940s and his journalistic visit to the headquarter of the Nation of Islam in Chicago's South Side twenty years later. Both institutions, Baldwin finds, suffer from an ambivalent myopia: Christianity in general "helped to protect and sanctify the power that was so ruthlessly being used by people who were indeed seeking a city, but not one in the heavens, and one to be made, very definitely, by captive hands"; the Nation of Islam "inculcated in the demoralized Negro population a truer and more individual sense of its own worth" through the "fearful paradox" of creating a hopeful future with "an invented past." Blacks, he seems to say, have traded in the belief system forced on them by their oppressors to a understandable longing for an illusory past. His conclusion is aggressive but perceptive: "the Negro has been formed by this nation, for better or for worse, and does not belong to any other--not to Africa, and certainly not to Islam."
But that's only half the story--or certainly less than half.Read more ›
Baldwin writes of his spiritual crisis as a teenager--a crisis which led to his career as a youth minister in an African-American Christian church. He writes bitterly of his ultimate disillusionment with the emptiness and hypocrisy he found in the church. Baldwin also writes of his meeting with Elijah Muhammad, the fiery leader of the Nation of Islam sect and mentor to controversial Black leader Malcolm X.
Baldwin's testament is a harsh critique of 20th century Christendom. Reflecting upon the rise of the Nazis in one of the world's most "Christian" nations, Baldwin declares, "From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete forever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms."
"The Fire Next time" is both an illuminating historical document of a turbulent era, and a superb piece of literary craftsmanship. All those interested in the art of nonfiction prose should take time to experience Baldwin's mastery of the medium. But even more importantly, we should all take time to consider his ideas on race, on religion, on prejudice, and on hope.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In her book, "The New Jim Crow," Michelle Alexander quoted "The Fire Next Time," and went on to say that it was the most extraordinary book ever written. Read morePublished 12 days ago by shalya payton
What can one say about James Baldwin? He was a legend. Excellent book.Published 19 days ago by UraniaM
I turned back to this book months after finishing Between the World and Me, to touch base. It has lost nothing of its power, and perhaps has gained even more urgency for so-called... Read morePublished 20 days ago by S. Rosenfeld
One of those books you have to read in your lifetime. It is short, poignant and also makes you think of the issues. This book is timeless and so liitle seems to have changed. Read morePublished 21 days ago by Vijay
First read when I was much younger, it remains a strong testament. To re-read Baldwin in the same few months of reading Ta-Nehisi Coates', Between the World and Me, my conscious... Read morePublished 25 days ago by Ed Epping