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Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room (original 1956; edition 2000)

by James Baldwin

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2,356312,668 (4.11)229
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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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Wonderful, shimmering book that ended leaving me sad and depressed. ( )
  ternary | Feb 14, 2015 |
'No matter what I was doing, another me sat in my belly, absolutely cold with terror over the question of my life',, 8 February 2015

This review is from: Giovanni's Room (Penguin Great Loves) (Paperback)
Set in 1950s Paris - and how beautifully Baldwin brings the city to life - this short novel is narrated by a white American male, living the cafe culture on handouts from home. While his girlfriend is off touring Spain, he falls for dashing young bartender Giovanni, and moves in with him.
But despite its moments of joy, the relationship is flawed by David's inability to admit to his own homosexuality. Imagining the 'normal' families in the houses he passes, he reflects:
'It was true... I wanted children. I wanted to be inside again, with the light and safety, with my manhood unquestioned, watching my woman put my children to bed... I wanted a woman to be for me a steady ground, like the earth itself.'
David's vacillating leads to heartbreak and a terrible ending....
This was a powerful work that really brings to light the shame and denial that societal pressures can put on a person. ( )
  starbox | Feb 8, 2015 |
In post-WWII Paris, David, an American expat of confused sexuality, has relationships with Hella, an American woman he considers marrying, and Giovanni, an Italian waiter he moves in with in Hella's absence. The story has been described as a "love triangle" but I am surprised by how little love is actually in it. David, who narrates the story, is an emotionally stunted man who wants a socially-acceptable, conventional marriage with Hella one moment and...well, it's hard to say exactly what he wants from Giovanni other than sex. One of the main themes of the work is how little we really know about other people, even those we claim to love. David doesn't really know Hella, or Giovanni, and he doesn't really love either of them.

Published originally in 1956, Giovanni's Room is often regarded as a classic work of pre-Stonewall gay literature, but it is not a book about gay pride. Rather, it is a book about gay (and bisexual) self-loathing. In the book, homosexuality is almost synonymous with desperation and alcoholism. The two old gay men in the narrative (Jacques and Guillaume; they are not exactly friends of David and Giovanni, but they are in the same social circle) are both portrayed as pathetic, repulsive "fairies", "old queens" etc. "Giovanni's room" itself is described as a cramped, filthy, uncomfortable place (David tries to clean it up, but fails). It's not any sort of paradise. It isn't even an adequate love nest.

At the beginning of their affair David and Giovanni are happy, but "[b]eneath the joy, of course, was anguish, and beneath the amazement was fear. ..[Later] anguish and fear [became] the surface on which we slipped and slid, losing balance, dignity and pride" (p. 63).

David likens his same-sex attraction to a "beast" and goes on to say, "The beast which Giovanni had awakened in me would never go to sleep again; but one day I would not be with Giovanni any more. And would I then, like all the others, find myself turning and following all kinds of boys down God knows what dark avenues, into what dark places?....[T]here opened in me a hatred of Giovanni which was as powerful as my love and which was nourished by the same roots" (p. 70).

The book is, for the most part, beautifully written (except for a few occasions in which David gets tangled in his own words), and once the narrative gains momentum in the second half, quite compelling. But it is a sad story that doesn't hold out any hope for an end to David's loneliness. ( )
  akblanchard | Jan 9, 2015 |
Written with wonderful awareness and prosaic beauty, Baldwin gives the reader an insight into expatriate life in 1950's Paris and a young man's struggles to come to terms with his sexuality and his sexual identity. Underneath this struggle lies a love story, albeit a repressed one fraught with guilt, as David struggles to avoid certain choices for reasons of social and familial acceptance. I found the feeling of isolation David experienced harrowing as he internalized his struggle and tried to put on a brave, indifferent front and a strong emotional theme of the story. The story is about awakening to reality. About climbing above the fog that society expects one to remain enveloped in. It is also about how trapped one can feel when society exhibits indications of refusing to accept someone for who they are.

Overall, a beautifully written story I am very happy to have finally read it. ( )
1 vote lkernagh | Sep 22, 2014 |
(review originally written for bookslut)

For every reader I believe there exist certain books that they will just fall into. From the very first sentence, it is obvious that there is something about the rhythm of the writing that matches the rhythm of the reader's brain. For me, Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin was one of those books. I opened it up at a bus stop and was immediately enraptured. In fact I had to close the book again almost as quickly, because I wasn't quite ready to be that deeply involved. I had just finished Tahar Djaout's The Last Summer of Reason and thought I would be able to slide myself gently into Baldwin's Paris, not find myself immediately in a house in southern France.

Anyway, the troublesome thing about books that one falls into is that they don't just get under your skin, they permeate you. This may be an altogether fine thing when reading Jane Austen, where whatever tribulations the characters may suffer during the course of the book, by the end everyone is properly matched and enjoying whatever measure of happiness that they deserve. Oh, to live in an Austen novel! Unfortunately, in life, and perhaps in every other novel not written by Austen, human beings and their loves do not work themselves out so neatly.

Giovanni's Room is about the tragedy of one man's tortured heart, and the poison it spreads to all those with the misfortune of becoming close to him. The narrator, David, discovers early in his life the joy that is to be had in other man's arms. But nothing in his life terrifies him as much as this discovery, from which he runs far and hard. When he finds joy again in Giovanni's room, it quickly becomes clear that it cannot last, that love does not always conquer all, and that it actually stands no chance against fear and self-delusion.

When I finally put this book down, I walked around dazed for a bit, feeling terribly hollow inside. It is on this book that I finally blame my moment of weakness, in which I reached for and devoured a cheesy
romance novel (though this book surely doesn't deserve such association). But after walking around for a week, having the despair of Giovanni's Room resonating inside my brain, I needed something trivial, something optimistic. Something with a deliriously unrealistic happy ending.

I do recommend this book. I think that it is beautiful and true and provides glimpses into unopened rooms in your heart. But I hope that you have something altogether fluffy to read afterwords... ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
added by gsc55 | editHearts on Fire, Delta (May 11, 2013)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
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

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141186356, 0141032944

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