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Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
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Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)

by James Baldwin

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English (42)  Dutch (1)  All languages (43)
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Go Tell It on the Mountain is the first major release by James Baldwin and is a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in Harlem. James Baldwin never knew his biological father and his stepfather was a strict Baptist minister. Go Tell It on the Mountain mainly follows the character John Grimes (who is the autobiographical character in the novel) but really shifts focus to other characters, to allow the exploration of John’s immediate family.

It took James Baldwin ten years to write Go Tell It on the Mountain and he has often stated that it was not a book he wanted to write but a book he felt he had to get out of his system before he would write anything else. This is a semi-autobiographical novel that focuses mainly of the hypocrisy within the community. James Baldwin’s stepfather was a minister and the way he acted in church was vastly different than when he was at home. He was a strict and abusive parent and this hypocrisy was evident within this novel.

However, there is so much more to this novel than just exploring how different people act when at church. Baldwin has a lot to say about the community and, while racism plays a big part within this debut novel, it was some of the other themes that interested me the most. The struggle between life and faith is a topic that I am fascinated in and while it is not the same as found in the memoir The Dark Path, this is explored in an interesting way within this novel. John Grimes had a spiritual awakening as a teenager and went onto become a preacher, however the hypocrisy he found within the church disheartened him and eventually he walked away from that life.

Yet Go Tell It on the Mountain goes a little deeper in exploring the hypocrisy of the church with subtle references to Baldwin’s sexuality. This is not explored in great detail within this book but it is a major theme in Giovanni’s Room. The way this novel explores the church life is fascinating and he shows great care for his characters; take for example John’s stepfather Gabriel, he may be hypocrite but he still requires some sympathy. He married John’s mother and raised him even if their union would be considered controversial within the church. I love how this novel plays with the religion and the way people differ between their church and home life.

This was my first James Baldwin novel but I have had the opportunity to read some of his short stories in the past. On the surface Go Tell It on the Mountain does sound like it is just focused on the hypocrisy of the church but I love the depth James Baldwin put into this book. The characters are so well crafted that even if you want to hate them you still feel a little compassion towards them. I cannot put my finger on James Baldwin’s writing style; at times it reminds me of dirty realism but all I know is that it makes me want to read more of his novels.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2015/03/22/go-tell-it-on-the-mountain-by-james-b... ( )
  knowledge_lost | Mar 23, 2015 |
The first Baldwin book I read, and the experience remains with me. ( )
  AntT | Jan 24, 2015 |
The first Baldwin book I read, and the experience remains with me. ( )
1 vote AntT | Jan 24, 2015 |
I am fascinated by first novels. They often tell us a lot about the author. Such is the case with [Go Tell It on the Mountain], James Baldwin's debut novel published in 1953. This book centers around John Grimes on his 14th birthday. John is the son of a harsh father, Gabriel, who is the minister of the Harlem church where most of this book take place, and a gentle mother, Elizabeth, whose past has secrets of its own. As John experiences a spiritual awakening at church one night, the adults reflect on their own lives and the events that have brought them to this day.

But this is much more than a semi-autobiographical story recounting the lives of individuals. It is also the story of a people, a generation, a time and place. The characters in this book have moved from the South to the North, accompanied by hopes for a better life, and Baldwin tells the story of all those who did the same. As one character reflects,

"There was not, after all, a great difference between the world of the North and that of the South, which she had fled; there was only this difference: the North promised more. And this similarity: what it promised it did not give, and what it gave, at length and grudgingly with one hand, it took back with the other." ( )
  porch_reader | Sep 28, 2014 |
Oh man, what a writer. Baldwin makes some of the most real characters I've ever read. And at the same time he writes about humanity, that big picture of humanity. I could read his books forever. ( )
  GraceZ | Sep 6, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Baldwinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cosgrave, John O'HaraIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Hagan, AndrewIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Dedication
For my father and mother
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Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385334575, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:14 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

As one of the century's premier American writers, James Baldwin has profoundly altered the nation's social and literary consciousness. "Go Tell It on the Mountain", Baldwin's first novel, brings Harlem and the black experience vividly to life, as it starkly contrasts two generations of an embattled black family.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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