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If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

If Beale Street Could Talk (1974)

by James Baldwin

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6201515,695 (4.02)21



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This book is about a 19 year old girl named Tish, who is in love with a 22 year old sculptor named Fonny. He impregnates her, and they get married. However, when he is falsely accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman, and goes to jail, this halts their engagement. His family travels to find evidence that will set him free, which pushes them all through New York and San Juan. Baldwin narrates through Tish’s point of view. Even from the first chapter, the story is a combination of sweet and sad. The charges that are pressed on Fonny are false, and he is the victim of a white policeman’s revenge because Fonny has attempted to humiliate him. Tish’s mother, Sharon, flies to Puerto Rico to find the rape victim who has fled home. The woman agrees that Fonny is her attacker, she later on has a miscarriage and has to go home. At the end of this novel Fonny’s father commits suicide because of his failure to get his son out of jail.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
That's a story where the characters don't give in to despair; they struggle on, hold on to their dignity till the end, even if that means being beaten down by the system. His characters and their stories inspire us, give us hope. At no point, the author takes recourse to showing extreme violence, even though one can feel that happening underneath; nor does he use an over-abundance of vulgarity or repeated obscene language.

In this book what I loved was Tish’s devotion to save Fonny, her optimism in the face of all that is going against them. Also, in the story, everything goes counter to what we would expect normally, even the end. Baldwin has caught the true reality of life, particularly of a young Afro-American man, exploited in the hands of white policemen. I came across this book accidentally, but its theme seems so relevant still today, particularly in the contexts of all those recent killings in America of young African-American men by white policemen that we see in the press.

Two phrases moved me to tears: When Tish’s mother says toward the end, ‘Sufferings always end. It doesn’t get better necessarily, but it always ends.” The other place is, at the beginning, when Tish is returning after seeing Fonny, and she is feeling very weak, and Bladwin compares the lawyers and the bondmen to vultures circling over a dying man in the desert…that is just so accurate!!

I really love the insights Baldwin has into life. ( )
  CorinneT | Apr 21, 2015 |

Yeah I used all caps. This book deserves them. Also I am not as good a writer as Baldwin, and so I have to resort to typography to make some points, while he uses expert word choice and pinpoint metaphor to make everything real and close to home. Even when describing how it is impossible to explain something, he captures the vagueness of the problem.

And then there's the fact that this book was so eye-opening, and made me feel like a spoiled child living a life of luxury. But I don't mean that in a bad way. It was... motivating. Moving, and motivating. ( )
  GraceZ | Sep 6, 2014 |
In some ways, this book was reminiscent of [b:If I Stay|4374400|If I Stay (If I Stay, #1)|Gayle Forman|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347462970s/4374400.jpg|4422413], not because the plot was similar, but rather because of the writing style. Both stories were narrated in first person points of view, both stories jumped back and forth between time, both stories had ratings above four stars, but both stories failed to draw me in, to make me commiserate with the protagonists.

I think I would have enjoyed this book more if my expectations weren’t set so high. From the 4.09 average rating, to the last sentence in the description, to the reviews, I had expected something similar to [b:To Kill a Mockingbird|2657|To Kill a Mockingbird|Harper Lee|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1361975680s/2657.jpg|3275794], something that explored how racism was viewed by different people, how those who helped the oppressed minority was discriminated, shunned by society. In all fairness, this book did cover those things, but only for about one, two paragraphs, and the rest were filled with remembrances of her time with Fonny.

My favourite part of this story is the part about him in jail. Not because I’m a crazy pervert who enjoys reading about this kind of thing, but rather because I think it’s the one thing that makes Fonny human. Up till then, he had been portrayed in such an adoring light that he seemed to be a figment of someone’s imagination, someone’s ideal partner instead of a real person.

What I disliked most about this story was the lack of an ending. You had your climax coming up – would Fonny be able to go a free me? – but then it just ended. Goodbye. The end. End of story. I was left, after flipping the page over expecting to see more text, floundering on my chair, wondering what had happened. I hate it when a writer does that, though I comprehend, on a theoretical level, that it’s supposed to make you ponder the ending, to stretch your grey matter, but on a practical level? The lack of an ending only makes me think that the writer couldn’t be bothered to think up a suitable, original ending.

But maybe the problem’s me. Maybe, if I read this book again 5 years later, I will shed tears over how sad the story is. Maybe, if I read this book again 5 years later, I will find that it resonates with something within me. Maybe. I don’t know. ( )
  Joyce.Leung | May 24, 2013 |
Baldwin writes the best characters ever. No, he writes characters best. I could have done without the odd little sections where he has Tish go on about the sanctity of blokes bonding and how it's better than anything else ever but such a small out of character moment next to everything else that is gutting and amazing. ( )
  veracite | Apr 6, 2013 |
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Book description
Like the blues--sweet, sad, and full of truth--this masterful work of fiction rocks us with powerful emotions. In it are anger and pain, but above all, love--the affirmative love of a woman for her man, the sustaining love of the black family. Fonny, a talented young artist, finds himself unjustly arrested and locked in New York's infamous Tombs. But his girlfriend, Tish, is determined to free him, and to have his baby, in this starkly realistic tale... a powerful indictment of American concepts of justice and punishment in our time.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307275930, Paperback)

In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:45 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Fonny, a talented young artist, finds himself unjustly arrested and locked in New York's infamous Tombs. But his girlfriend, Tish, is determined to free him, and to have his baby, in this starkly realistic tale...

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