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Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room (1956)

by James Baldwin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,111532,587 (4.12)285

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English (50)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room may be the most exquisitely beautiful and painful work of fiction that I have ever read. It is surely one of the finest of all American novels. It is full of stately, breathtaking beauty, noble, yet agonizing, a work where ecstasy is coupled with shame. The work is a semi-autobiographical account of a young man coming to accept his own sexual desires -- but it is also so much more. To quote Jack Murnighan (in Beowulf on the Beach): "James Baldwin is a historian of pain and a tactician of delicacy. He reads the history of injury with a touch so gentle, so noble, you can forget it's agony that he is tracing out... the frustration and despair of any inner self at complete odds with outer circumstance." And again: "James Baldwin (was) forever struggling with impulses he couldn't escape, but forging them into beauty at the cost of his own contentment."

This book gained from me a rare 5 stars -- something I have awarded to fewer than 5% of the >1600 works of fiction that I have read. I originally got it from a local library, but decided I couldn't live without a copy of my own. Sublime, intense, tragic: there has never been ( I daresay) a work to match it. ( )
2 vote danielx | Aug 14, 2018 |
Enthralling, poetic, painful, and abusing. A testament to the profound and destructive effects of shame on human life. ( )
  Anneoliver13 | Aug 12, 2018 |
David, a young American man, sleepwalks through Paris in the years following World War II. He lives on money in a trust which his father charily metes out to him - requests for which may or may not be met. David ostensibly awaits the return of his fiancée from Spain, although it’s never clear that he looks forward to her return all that impatiently.

Instead, he falls in with a couple of lecherous Parisian businessmen, whose tastes clearly run to the homoerotic. David falls in and dallies with these men; these are his own deepest proclivities as well. He’s kept his orientation secret from his father, and has remained in Paris as a way of keeping a distance from him. He does love Hella the fiancée, or thinks he does. He may see her as a way of returning to a more orthodox life, but this isn’t clear.

What is clear in this work is David’s love for Giovanni, a young excitable Italian who falls hard for David. It is the tragedy of the story that David turns his back on Giovanni and leaves him in a desperate situation, with life-and-death consequences. David cannot see a way out of his prison; even the promise of his fiancée evaporates, as she leaves him, disheartened and disillusioned to return home to America.

He has built a prison for himself, out of the worst materials possible: guilt and shame. He sees no escape and argues and recriminates with himself constantly. He rationalizes every move, every cruel decision, as another step in “finding himself,” or in curing himself. But in David’s case, there is no cure for selfish.

The story plunges toward a grim singularity - Giovanni’s death - his desperate crime bringing down France’s ultimate sentence. David knows, or again, thinks he knows, the date; he tortures himself by imagining what Giovanni’s last minutes will be like, but he feels he cannot help from doing so. Such is the love he once had for Giovanni.

In a dark and horrific sequence, David imagines Giovanni’s last moments before execution. He does this in the home he and Hella had rented in the south of France. He stares into a mirror as he packs to leave; as the daylight shifts, his own image begins to grow transparent and disappear. Fro the book:

“I move at last from the mirror and begin to cover that nakedness which I must hold sacred, though it be never so vile, which must be scoured perpetually with the salt of my life. I must believe, I must believe, that the heavy grace of God, which has brought me to this place, is all that can carry me out of it.”

Here I read a kind of surrender, in which David finally finds himself alone in the world, turning to a faith he does not feel, and somehow hopes that it will deliver him from his crisis. This patently will not work.

And further:
“And at last I step out into the morning and I lock the door behind me. … And I look up the road where a few people stand, men and women, waiting for the morning bus. They are very vivid beneath the awakening sky, and the horizon behind them is beginning to flame.”

David thus accompanies the only person he’s ever loved on the bier to the next world. But he’s been riding down the slippery slope with Giovanni since the beginning of their relationship. David’s absorption in his shame makes this inevitable. Baldwin uses plain language to illuminate David’s state of mind. David’s shame, lust, guilt, and fear all bear the bright unflinching glare of David’s disgust with himself. This is remarkable writing. Baldwin wanted to lay bare the torturous rationalizations and admissions of cowardice felt by a man in this trial of life. He succeeds admirably.

He succeeds also in aligning the outcome for his hero with a strict morality, in which the completely self-absorbed man ends with nothing, facing a void in the awakening, flaming sky. ( )
  LukeS | Jun 2, 2018 |
I really wanted to love this one more than I did. It had Baldwin's excellent style but I didn't connect with the characters very much. It has a paragraph of really surprising transmisogyny. ( )
  gabarito | May 13, 2018 |
This is such a well written book. The story, is of David, a white man who travels to Paris and has a relationship with a young Italian man while his girlfriend who he has asked to marry is traveling in Spain to think about the proposal. David is confused, ambiguous, and not very sure of himself. He struggles with his identity and is very unfair to the young man, Giovanni, who he has been sharing a room with during his gf's travels. The edition I read, for 1001 traveling book swap, was the Everyman's Edition and had a forward by Col Toíbín which I really enjoyed. He compared this book to The Ambassadors by Henry James and The Sun also Rises by Hemingway. So this would be a good companion read with those. It is a book that examines relationships that David has with his early childhood friends, father, girlfriend and with Giovanni. It is a book about "identity". On page 22, David states; "... the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight..." So "no matter where you go, there you are.". There are so many great quotes in the book.

The book, of course is a LGBTQ book written in the fifties and examines the problems that a young man faced during this time. Relationships were hard to secure and the gay man often found himself really not much better off than a prostitute. Working the bars and streets for young boys and features old men referred to "queens" that is the future that awaits a young, gay man, if he cannot find a life partner.

The book is well written and I enjoyed it and highly recommend it. ( )
  Kristelh | Apr 2, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
added by gsc55 | editHearts on Fire, Delta (May 11, 2013)

» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Baldwinprimary authorall editionscalculated
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:34 -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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