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Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room (original 1956; edition 2000)

by James Baldwin

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2,279272,803 (4.12)199
Title:Giovanni's Room
Authors:James Baldwin
Info:Delta (2000), Paperback, 176 pages
Collections:Your library

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Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (1956)


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English (24)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
A testament to the strength and beauty of the writing that such a navel-gazing novel held my interest. ( )
  reluctantm | Jul 28, 2014 |
David is a young man living in Paris and reflecting on a doomed love affair. This poetic story, a mere 160 pages, delves not only into his relationship with Giovanni, but also into his confusion, self-loathing, loneliness, shame and more. In a flawed attempt to figure out who he is and what he truly wants, David has a tendency to hurt those around him with little or no feeling. Baldwin’s beautiful and succinct writing style pulls readers into David’s world.

In addition to telling a tragic love story, the book touches on the complicated role women held in society in the early 20th century. As they began to gain the freedom to make their own decisions they realized that in many ways they weren’t really free. The expectation was still that they find a husband as soon as possible.

“I don’t see what’s so hard about being a woman. At least, not as long as she’s got a man.” “‘That’s just it,’ said she. ‘Hasn’t it ever struck you that that’s a sort of humiliating necessity?’” … ‘I began to realize it in Spain that – that I wasn’t free, that I couldn’t be free until I was attached – no committed to someone.’”

BOTTOM LINE: A haunting look at love and its many forms, this story reminds the readers of the importance of understanding who you are. The pain and heartbreak is universal when we can’t even be honest with ourselves.

“But people can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, any more than they can invent their parents.”

“Much has been written of love turning to hatred, of the heart growing cold with the death of love. It is a remarkable process. It is far more terrible than anything I have ever read about it, more terrible than anything I will ever be able to say.”
( )
  bookworm12 | Jun 25, 2014 |
"If your countrymen think that privacy is a crime, so much the worse for your country..."Love is(n't) enough.

Love is(n't) enough in how it's done. Love is(n't) enough in how it's pressed upon and consolidated and ultimately allowed. When you look at it, especially when looking is all that's allowed, you start to feel that it's how it's always been, and you are the same as anyone. Unless you talk, which here on out is (never) the case.

But feeling, though. That's the compass of your crime. It breeds with the life and times and leaves you with nothing but a sense of righteousness and the basic plumbing. The birds and the bees, part A and part B, the diagrams of fitting and the hell of wondering otherwise. You can like the latter, you can drink it through you dry, but the founding fear will chase you across the ocean to where the rules are not as clear and just as cruel.

But you are crueler. You're not the only one fumbling in the dark of man loves woman when each acts as so, you're not the only one realizing the gap between living and a life, you're not the first to discover that noose around your neck, so why the running? Why the fuss? You have a woman sacrificing her personhood on one of your shoulders, a man saving his existence on the other, and the thought of having them both defeats you utterly.

If you had been the sole defeated, you may have been redeemed. But no. You ignored the truth of women surviving in the 1950's, you belittled the love of a man with far more than you to lose, and wrenched yourself out of your belovedly loathed dreamland in as bloody a manner as can be. Off you go, another quest for what you cannot bear to lose even to the undisclosed desires of your confusion and your shame, your manhood and your lust, the path your father led you and the lies with which you pave your way, off to a future of balancing over the gap.

The worst of it is that you acted as anyone would. Better, maybe, worse, perhaps, but the reader knows the garrote of love and the lemming of its lifelines. There is no hating you without hating what they themselves commit in the name of affection and a socially acceptable relationship. Outside of that is only a sick sense of empathy and an even sicker sense of gratefulness that their personal hell is not your own.

The rest, as we say, is history, and we are doomed to repeat it."Well then," he continued, "as though with enough time and all that fearful energy and virtue you people have, everything will be settled, solved, put in its place. And when I say everything," he added, grimly, "I mean all the serious, dreadful things, like pain and death and love, in which you Americans do not believe." ( )
  Korrick | Feb 26, 2014 |
A powerful, moving story of self exploration. Two young men discover a frightening truth about their sexuality, and proceed to struggle painfully with their passion and love for one another in the face of societal judgements. An Italian and an American find themselves in a foriegn country and foriegn emotional territory. Certainly, progress has occured since the publication of this novel, but really....when will hatred and fear stop reigning supreme? ( )
  hemlokgang | Jan 7, 2014 |
Gay male poetry is about energy, adventure, quest, danger, beauty and pleasure amidst secrecy, shame, and pain. Whilst Giovanni's Room is prose, lovely prose, it is about most of those things and brought to mind this twenty-year-old quotation from Camille Paglia*.

The exquisite and horribly tragic story of a gay relationship in, and written in, the 1950s, of course it is catalysed by the difficulties involved in homosexuality then - not least the fear and self-loathing of narrator David's internalised homophobia.

Definitions are rarely used; declared gradations of gay or bi here look like the products of our much more tolerant world, and a different, ambiguous frame of reference seems to apply to the main characters' relationships with women alongside men, just as with Dirk Bogarde's character in the film Victim (1961). Living within a different paradigm, how can I interpret what was love and what was resigned compliance or in between or anything else - or who would have been together in a liberated era?

(Also necessary to its time, the book has a coyness about physical details of sex unlike some more recent gay writing I can recall.)

Most of the action is set in France and the novel has the doomed romanticism and strange flashes of wisdom I love in certain French classics. (Though in self-awareness this narrator is not a patch on de Musset.) There is more than a hint, too, of David's homeland: all-American, sulky, contemporary with the Beats, James Dean & Salinger. Throughout, the prose feels heightened and remarkably clear in a way I can only compare, too obviously, with mountain air.

* Paglia was a favourite in my late teens but this blog reminded me of the particular quote a few months ago. ( )
  antonomasia | Aug 28, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
added by gsc55 | editHearts on Fire, Delta (May 11, 2013)

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James Baldwinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Prinsen, G.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I am the man, I suffered, I was there. - Whitman
For Lucien
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I stand at the window of this great house in the south of France as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385334583, Paperback)

Set in the 1950s 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:37 -0400)

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"Set in the 1950s, Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality"--P. [4] of cover.

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Penguin Australia

Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141186356, 0141032944

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