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Giovanni's Room Paperback – June 13, 2000
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"If Van Gogh was our 19th-century artist-saint, James Baldwin is our 20th-century one."
"A young American involved with both a woman and a man...Baldwin writes of these matters with unusual candor and yet with such dignity and intensity."
--The New York Times
"Absorbing...[with] immediate emotional impact."
--The Washington Post
"Mr. Baldwin has taken a very special theme and treated it with great artistry and restraint."
"Exciting...a book that belongs in the top rank of fiction."
"Violent, excruciating beauty."
--San Francisco Chronicle
From the Inside Flap
950s 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.
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and characters of so many cultures, in such a real, honest and beautiful way. "Giovanni's Room" is romantic, sad, and perfect~ it tells the truth about a time and culture that still exists in many ways today. I read his non-fiction "The Fire Next Time" and was in awe. His fiction is amazing too. Read "Another Country" before this novel~ another wonderful book. But I think "Giovanni's Room" is better and also a good place to start if you are interested in Baldwin's fiction. The characters will stay with me for a long time.
But Vidal, as good a writer as he is, is not a poet. And GIOVANNI'S ROOM is the work of a poet.
Baldwin's writing is uncommonly beautiful. Even when dealing with the darkest of emotions and the most devastating of tragedies, his prose soars like an eagle above the usual form of the novel, giving the events a depth and meaning that, to my mind, most forcibly recall Tennessee Williams; it is a shame that none of Baldwin's novels or plays were ever filmed.
The fairly simple story concerns David, an expatriate American in Paris, aged about twenty-seven or so and somewhat of a drifter. He is involved with a young woman named Hella, whom he has asked to marry him; at the start of the story, which is told in flashback, Hella is off traveling in Spain, considering David's proposal, which despite the appearance of importance she is giving it, has a hollow ring to it.
While Hella is gone, David, needing money, becomes involved in the homosexual world of Paris. He does not go so far as to have sex with any of the men, but he learns quickly how to use them to get the money that his father keeps refusing to send him from the States.
One night, with one of these acquaintances, a middle-aged businessman named Jacques, David goes to a bar owned by Jacques's friend Guillaume, and meets the new barman, a beautiful young Italian named Giovanni. The two young men hit it off extremely well; without revealing too much, suffice it to say that the evening ends in Giovanni's room, in his bed.
The remainder of the novel deals with David's inner turmoil over the fact that he has fallen head-over-heels in love with Giovanni, a love, though this is not said directly, much deeper than whatever it is he feels (felt?) for Hella. Later on, naturally, Hella returns to Paris, and David, afraid to face Giovanni, simply abandons him and takes up with Hella at her hotel.
The inevitable happens, and Giovanni and Hella eventually meet on the street. Giovanni is with Jacques, and they invite David and Hella out for a drink. Hella, perhaps sensing something, begs off on the grounds that she does not feel well. David takes her back to her hotel.
The following evening, David returns to Giovanni's room and attempts to explain to him why he must make his life with Hella, but at this point it is obvious that he is trying to convince himself.
The novel turns tragic after David and Giovanni separate forever. Giovanni commits a murder and is sent to the guillotine; David and Hella rent a house in the south of France, but inevitably, one night, David disappears and takes up with a sailor. Hella tracks him down and finds him, very drunk, with the sailor, in a gay bar. Embittered, she leaves for the United States almost immediately. David, who appears to be planning to stay in Paris, leaves the house and goes to the bus stop to wait for the bus to the train station.
I don't know to what extent David's self-loathing mirrored Baldwin's, or if Baldwin felt that way at all, but the really remarkable thing is that all of the people in this novel, American, French, and Italian, are white, yet Baldwin, who seems to have had an almost musical ear for dialogue, speaks in all these different voices with amazing accuracy and precision.
This is an astonishing work of art. To describe it as a novel about homosexuality is to trivialize it. It is a deeply human story about people with flaws, and how these flaws sometimes can be our undoing.
James Baldwin was certainly a literary and cultural force to be reckoned with ....and his works are
getting so much attention now because he was ahead of his time and not afraid to broach subjects
of LGTBQ sexuality/issues as well as the many facets of racism, including police brutality,
discrimination in laws, housing, education... Giovanni's Room pushed me into a world I don't know;
it was beautiful, painful, strange and eye-opening.