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Go Tell It on the Mountain Paperback – June 13, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 193 customer reviews

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Paperback, June 13, 2000
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

First published in 1953 when James Baldwin was nearly 30, Go Tell It on the Mountain is a young man's novel, as tightly coiled as a new spring, yet tempered by a maturing man's confidence and empathy. It's not a long book, and its action spans but a single day--yet the author packs in enough emotion, detail, and intimate revelation to make his story feel like a mid-20th-century epic. Using as a frame the spiritual and moral awakening of 14-year-old John Grimes during a Saturday night service in a Harlem storefront church, Baldwin lays bare the secrets of a tormented black family during the depression. John's parents, praying beside him, both wrestle with the ghosts of their sinful pasts--Gabriel, a preacher of towering hypocrisy, fathered an illegitimate child during his first marriage down South and refused to recognize his doomed bastard son; Elizabeth fell in love with a charming, free-spirited young man, followed him to New York, became pregnant with his son, and lost him before she could reveal her condition.

Baldwin lays down the terrible symmetries of these two blighted lives as the ironic context for John's dark night of the soul. When day dawns, John believes himself saved, but his creator makes it clear that this salvation arises as much from blindness as revelation: "He was filled with a joy, a joy unspeakable, whose roots, though he would not trace them on this new day of his life, were nourished by the wellspring of a despair not yet discovered."

Though it was hailed at publication for its groundbreaking use of black idiom, what is most striking about Go Tell It on the Mountain today is its structure and its scope. In peeling back the layers of these damaged lives, Baldwin dramatizes the story of the great black migration from rural South to urban North. "Behind them was the darkness," Baldwin writes of Gabriel and Elizabeth's lost generation, "nothing but the darkness, and all around them destruction, and before them nothing but the fire--a bastard people, far from God, singing and crying in the wilderness!" This is Baldwin's music--a music in which rhapsody is rooted anguish--and there is none finer in American literature. --David Laskin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“With vivid imagery, with lavish attention to details, Mr. Baldwin has told his feverish story.” —The New York Times
“Brutal, objective and compassionate.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“It is written with poetic intensity and great narrative skill.” —Harper’s
“Strong and powerful.” —Commonweal
“A sense of reality and vitality that is truly extraordinary. . . . He knows Harlem, his people, and the language they use.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“This is a distinctive book, both realistic and brutal, but a novel of extraordinary sensitivity and poetry.” —Chicago Sunday Tribune


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback; unknown edition (June 13, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385334575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385334570
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #444,575 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dera R Williams on March 9, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This was my second time reading this masterpiece;the first time in the early 70s. I don't remember what I thought about it then, though I remember it leaving an impression. The writing then and moreso now is writing at its best from a master in my opinion. Yes it is complex, convoluted, disturbing at times but for me it flowed. Not everyone can write fire and brimstone, sin and redemption in literary terms. I am in awe of his genius.
During one night at a prayer service, four individuals stories are told. John, on this day has just turned fourteen years old and is trying to make sense of his life. Gentle, intelligent, he wanted so much to please the man who he thought of as his father. He had potential to expand his life beyond the limitations in front of him. Gabriel, wretched, tortured soul, a man who refused to take responsibility for his actions. Saved, sanctified and fill with the Holy Ghost, his mistreatment of his first wife, Deborah, his discard lover, Esther, his present wife Elizabeth and his son John is what kept him from being the minister that he was in his youth before he fell from grace. Elizabeth, proud and determined, she wanted John to have the same love from Gabriel that he gave to his other "natural" sons. A woman who accepted her circumstances; she has lost her first true love, Richard and was resigned to accepting Gabriel's hand in marriage to redeem her sin. Florence, too proud for her own good Bitter, resentful of her brother Gabriel and now perhaps facing death, she has lived a live of unfulfilled dreams.
Where we they all stand after they haved poured their hearts and souls on the alter? Secrets, dreams, hopes are revealed. Told in a language of complexity full of allegories, symbolism, Bible similies, it is no wonder it is taught in universities around the country. I am on a quest to read re-read Baldwin's books that I have read and read others that I have not. Nobody does it better.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Looking over the reviews, I was surprised at how often reviewers said this books was tedious to them. I found it one of the strongest and most powerful books I have read it a long time, with language that was exalted, and often hymn-like in its quality.
Concerning the book, then, I would like to suggest a couple of things to readers and to those who suggest books for others to read:
1)Don't read this book unless you know your Bible well, particularly the King James version. Without this as your base, I would guess that you'd find the language incredibly dense, and most of Baldwin's allusive power will blow past you.
2)Don't read this book unless you have some experience in life. Again, I would think that the way Baldwin is able to put deep inner struggles and the feelings that rise from hard experience into words will remain lost to you unless you've had some hard experience of your own.
3) If you're not African American, a little pre-reading into the Black experience in America might be helpful first, looking into particularly the Great Migration, the Azusa street revival, and the rise of the storefront church.
4) Practice reading the book out loud!! Many passages were written in an almost oral form, the kind one hears in preaching, with rolling sentences that seem to go on forever. Don't let the long sentences intimidate. Rather let them sweep you along, phrase for phrase, as they're meant to.
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Format: Hardcover
First I want to say. I really don't understand how anyone with enough intelligence to load this site and write a review (and it doesn't take much) could speak so critically about such a powerful book. I can't even dismiss two of the reviews as complaints of illiterate teenagers. How can anyone ignore the universal theme of the book, the human condition. The entrapment of an individual inside personal, ethnic, religious, racial, and/or ancestral bonds. As for the "boringness" of the book, it seems to me that any one could appreciate this book, it is jsut as captivating as any thriller. John's struggle with his own identity as a person, a "saint", and African-American, is captivating. Yes we all go through the same type of self-discovery, but no one captures, in such eloquent wording, the angst of such a revelation. In response to the critique of Baldwin's writing style. I can see how some people might not be able to have patience for his elongated sentences, and biblical references. And if you are too frustrated to make it through the entire book, I think I might understand...but please don't downgrade what you have read. Baldwin's work is likely the "Pit and the Pendulum" of the 20th Century.
I would aslo like to say to the highschool students who read this book, that if I can appreciate it (and I am sixteen) I think you can too.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Jesus said, "A man's enemies will be the members of his own household" (Matthew 10:36), and "No prophet is accepted in his hometown" (Luke 4:24).
This idea certainly plays out in the Grimes family of James Baldwin's "Go Tell It on the Mountain" (1952). Except for John's mother Elizabeth, the adult Grimeses have no idea that love, familial love, is supposed to include favor (not favoritism like the father Gabriel's), the idea of blessing each other with good words, good will, and heartfelt affection. Unfortunately, the novel's Black Christians' idea of goodness and holiness is colored by the master's idea of a good slave: docile, acquiescent, submissive, silent in the face of abuse, always needing to prove your worth. "Blessed Assurance" isn't one of their songs.
"Go Tell" presents not only the story of John's 14th birthday, but the past stories of Elizabeth, Gabriel, and Aunt Florence. Whereas Gabriel's spiritual journey--if you can call it that--at about age 21 is born of desperation and remorse after much self-abuse and self-indulgence, John's spiritual journey on his 14th birthday is one of insight and refuge after much abuse and neglect. Gabriel indulges and denies his dark side, projecting his evil onto others. John wonders over his own evil thoughts, seeking to reconcile his light and dark sides.
John's family and people have been cursed by the white-oriented world, and by a false interpretation of the scripture, namely the curse of Noah upon Canaan. Believing this curse, Gabriel in turn, without meaning to, curses his children. Will any of the Grimes family truly experience being, like Israel, heirs to the promises of God, as well as heirs to the world's persecution and heartache?
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