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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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» See also 196 mentions

English (35)  Dutch (1)  All languages (36)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
While this book is considered a work of fiction, anyone that is familiar with Baldwin's life story will see an obvious connection. I was immediately whisked away to Harlem, where I was a ghost, hiding in corners watching as the story unfolded and the characters revealed themselves. The book is a story of complex lives entwined with ghosts from the past. I found myself hurting for Deborah and Elizabeth and disliking Gabriel. I wanted to reach out and hug John one minute and the next tell him to 'man up'. This book is a classic that should be required reading in all schools. ( )
  wearylibrarian | Feb 5, 2014 |
An amazing book. It touched my heart. Everyone should read and understand this lovely writer. It is an American classic. ( )
  BBT | Jan 28, 2014 |
All this time I thought it was called 'Go Tell it *to* the Mountain.' Well, the mountain gets told from a great height I guess. Great structure, great writing, great insight. A few reviewers complain that the ending is too 'simplistic,' which I take it means 'main character doesn't become an atheist.' Indeed he doesn't, but to describe anything about this book as simplistic or disappointing, as if being slightly different means you have to break out of your entire community and history, is itself bizarrely simplistic. This book is great, and the ending deserves to be read closely and thought through, not complained about. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
It's hard to sum up Go Tell it on the Mountain, which is in part about 14 year old John Grimes and his rough home life, how he longs to escape the path his preacher father walked and find another kind of living that still escapes sin. It's also about John's the spiritual awakening one night while nearby his father, mother, and aunt each say their own prayers and remember their own lives.

Religion is a major theme of this book; it's at the periphery of every scene and sometimes right out front. It brushes against the Christian faith, sits with it, lives in it, while at the same time showing some of the hypocrisy of those who preach it.

The novel unfolds somewhat like a poem, in that it doesn't follow a straight linear thread. Rather it relies on image, tone, and symbolism as it moves from scene to scene. The language is lyrical and vivid, thick with emotion, and like a poem I had to sit with it for a moment and try to absorb what I could. It's a book I'll return to again, to read and see what else I might discover.

Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote andreablythe | Nov 5, 2013 |
When I was vacationing in Chicago recently, I went to a used bookstore and saw some James Baldwin books. I've heard many good things about him, so I decided to get this book... an old paperback edition (not the white one pictured above) for $5.

The next morning, flipping through my stack of newly purchased books, I noticed to my amazement that this book was signed! And signed "For Jimmy". Unbelievable:


('For Jimmy or be that James: Peace, James Baldwin')

So I felt like it was fate that brought this book into my hands, this book which had as its subject matter: fate. So what could it mean? What is the universe trying to tell me? Am I looking at a double fucking rainbow? ;) "The distant gramophone stuck now, suddenly, on a grinding, wailing, sardonic trumpet-note; this blind, ugly crying swelled the moment and filled the room. She looked down at John. A hand somewhere struck the gramophone arm and sent the silver needle on its way through the whirling, black grooves, like something bobbing, anchorless, in the middle of the sea." p. 219.What I love about this book, and what I feel a lot of people reviewing this book on Goodreads have misinterpreted about it, is that this book does not have an agenda on race, religion, class, violence, or sexuality. This book is about these things, but they are never in the driver's seat, because the characters are. The characters are the glue between the interconnectedness of race and religion and class and violence and sexuality, and they show how out of these things arises an insurmountable complexity, an ambiguous amorphous blob of feelings. It is precisely the ability to live within the complexity of these feelings instead of reducing it into the simplicity of judgement that great writers are great. By the end of this book, the reader feels just as ambiguous about God as the characters do. Is the (thing that happens at the end) a good or a bad thing? It is neither, rather it is a complicated mess of feelings that cannot be untied into good or bad.

If you understand how complex things are in the real world, it is hard not to feel empathy for those who must live it. That is why the characters are also neither good nor bad. They are human, and thus, imperfect. Baldwin is a master at inhabiting their headspaces, filling out the history of each character so completely and humanely that it is hard not to feel empathy for each character, even the ones that have done awful things. In fact, the whole book is an exercise in empathy, and that is, in my opinion, the highest aim for any artist.

Of course, I haven't even touched on the attention and quality of the actual words that make up his sentences. Here is a sample excerpt. Note how the lyrical rhythm drives the narrative and vice versa. Also note how he tells more than shows, thus dismantling the "show don't tell" adage (which was never a good rule anyway, except for those aiming for mediocrity, which seems to be all we're willing to aim for these days):God was everywhere, terrible, the living God; and so high, the song said, you couldn't get over Him; so low you couldn't get under Him; so wide you couldn't get around Him; but must come in at the door.

And she, she knew today that door; a living, wrathful gate. She knew through what fires the soul must crawl, and with what weeping one passed over. Men spoke of how the heart broke up, but never spoke of how the soul hung speechless in the pause, the void, the terror between the living and the dead; how, all garments rent and cast aside, the naked soul passed over the very mouth of Hell. Once there, there was no turning back; once there, the soul remembered, though the heart sometimes forgot. For the world called to the heart, which stammered to reply; life, and love, and revelry, and, most falsely, hope, called the forgetful, the human heart. Only the soul, obsessed with the journey it had made, and had still to make, pursued its mysterious and dreadful end; and carried heavy with weeping and bitterness, the heart along.

And therefore there was war in Heaven, and weeping before the throne: the heart chained to the soul, and the soul imprisoned within the flesh--a weeping, a confusion, and a weight unendurable filled all the earth. Only the love of God could establish order in this chaos; to Him the soul must turn to be delivered.

But what a turning! How could she fail to pray that He would have mercy on her son, and spare him the sin-born anguish of his father and his mother. And that his heart might know a little joy before the long bitterness descended.
SPOILER ALERT:

For those who criticize the end of the book for its convenience/believability: I think what Baldwin is getting at here is that the conversion is not a willful choice. Johnny does not choose to be converted. Of course, the conversion is hard to believe for skeptics of religion, but I think you have to go in with the attitude that Baldwin himself is skeptical of religion, but he is also a believer, at least on some level, i.e. he might not believe religion is always a force for good, but he damn well believes that it is a force. Whether you believe it is the holy spirit or the atmosphere or voodoo does not matter, things like this do happen, and the fact that Johnny's whole life has been steered in this direction doesn't help. It is almost like his own reluctance is no match for the fate of all the history that has brought him to this point in time.

It is also brilliant how the conversion is shown in this light… where it wavers between a joyous event and a thing that is inevitable, like a well-set trap… down a long dark road that has no good end. This ominousness goes along with the joy and tempers it, makes it such a great, ambiguous ending. You get a sense that this is just the beginning of a long hard journey for John. ( )
  JimmyChanga | Sep 11, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Baldwinprimary authorall 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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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)

» see all 5 descriptions

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