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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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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 |
This novel is filled with love, beauty, sorrow, frustration, and anger. Although it was written in 1974, the story could have taken place in today's world. There has been some progress in our race relations, but not even close to enough. There are still those who have too much power. A terrific book, which I recommend everyone to read. ( )
  Sherri68 | Mar 30, 2013 |
If Beale Street Could Talk is a harsh indictment of the American criminal justice system, a sad commentary on race relations in the U.S, and a beautiful love story. The novel is told in first person from the point of view of Tish, a 19-year-old woman living in the projects in early 1970’s Harlem. Tish finds she is pregnant with Fonny’s child shortly after he is carted off to jail for a crime he did not commit. The novel jumps back and forth between flashbacks that recount Tish and Fonny’s blossoming romance, and the present day, when Tish and her family are doing everything in their power to get Fonny out of jail, while attempting to maneuver in a system where everything is stacked against them– racist cops, crooked judges, expensive and untrustworthy lawyers, etc.

While the novel is engaging and powerful (especially towards the end), it is definitely not one of Baldwin’s best. I believe its main flaw is that instead of letting the (very powerful) story do the talking, Tish frequently slips into Baldwin’s voice and pontificates on love, human nature, the American dream, etc. Granted, some of these passages are zingers, but they tend to disrupt the flow of the novel and are clearly coming from Baldwin, rather than the character we are supposed to believe is telling the story. I realize this is a fairly common criticism of Baldwin, but the phenomenon had not bothered me while reading his other novels. However, I found it to be especially pronounced in this one.

If you have never read his fiction, please do not make this your first or only James Baldwin novel! It is certainly decent and addresses several very important issues that are still (unfortunately) relevant today, but it does not compare to Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, and Another Country (in that order). Perhaps for completists only. ( )
1 vote DorsVenabili | Aug 11, 2011 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:06:27 -0400)

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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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