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Giovanni's Room (1956)

by James Baldwin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,4991002,095 (4.15)345
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.… (more)

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» See also 345 mentions

English (96)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (100)
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
What to even say? This book took my breath away on nearly every page. What kind of alchemy has Baldwin performed by writing a hero's journey with no real hero? So much claustrophobia, shame, and yearning. I want to write essays on the repetition of the words home, dirty, unmoored, roar, watch, and endure. ( )
  liannecollins | Jun 10, 2022 |
This was a reread for me and the book was even better than I remembered. It’s gripping, moving and full of humanity. ( )
  whatmeworry | Apr 9, 2022 |
This book is incredibly moving. Written decades ago when feelings and attitudes about homosexuality were different than they are today (at least, from appearances), this book shows the trauma and devastation when society's "moral" codes restrict or change the behaviors of people who cannot be freed from them.
If ever there was a beautifully crafted and honestly told love story, this is it. Like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, this story tells of a love affair which is doomed from the very beginning. Like Romeo and Juliet, it ends tragically. And like Romeo and Juliet, the damage extends far beyond the principle participants.
While deeply and undeniably in love with another man, the story's protagonist cannot escape his upbringing, his sexual confusion, and his inability to become fully formed as a human being and surpass the expectations and prejudices of a society that is all too quick to judge and condemn. In his weakness and inability to come to grips with who he is, David, the protagonist, hurts others, hurts himself, and ultimately "dies" to the life of joy and fulfillment he might have enjoyed had he been able to live his life honestly.
James Baldwin must have felt the same pains, both because he himself was homosexual and because no one could write a story so deep, so feeling, so emotionally devastating other than a person who had gone through the same experiences.
Throughout the book, I could not help feeling that I was not reading a novel, but instead was being privileged to read someone's deepest feelings and most crippling pain.
This book centers around a homosexual relationship, to be sure, but it is not really about that. It is about the pain of loving deeply, completely, and, in the end, hopelessly. ( )
  PaulLoesch | Apr 2, 2022 |
I won't start by talking much about the writing. It is James Baldwin. As always his prose is perfect. Somehow a single sentence can include desolation and hope, resignation and strength, and it does all that with economy and poetry. The perfection of the prose allowed me to focus fully on the story being told. I also won't start by telling you this is a good book. Of course its a good book. Instead I want to talk about the reading experience, because in addition to being a great novel, this is a historical document, and it gave me a good deal to reflect on.

I wondered throughout how different a read this would have been in 1956 or 1986, or 2006 for that matter. In earlier times the beauty, earthiness, and simplicity of David and Giovanni's love would have been a revelation and I am sure to many a much needed validation. That was certainly true in 1986 when the public perception of sexual relationships between men was limited to the transactional sex of the bathhouses that were the focus of AIDs news coverage and the bars as depicted in Cruising. I am no historian, but I see Giovanni's Room as the beginning of a subgenre of film and literature that depicts same gender relationships which include love, connection and tenderness and are somehow therefore doomed to crushing loss and pain. I think about Midnight Cowboy, Brokeback Mountain, even Philadelphia (in which love was depicted as tragic and also very non-carnal.) And I get it. The world made a stable joyful long-term relationship between men an awfully difficult, maybe impossible, goal. And also, it was not just straight people watching and reading these tales. I imagine boys realizing same-sex attraction most often did not even think to work for deeper relationships because it was not presented as a possibility. I am not intending to straight-splain or infer that long-term committed partnerships are the be-all-and-end-all. I mention all this because I have a point here that required some foundation. Art is in the viewers perception not the artist's intention. This is not timeless, and this is a very different book now than it was when written. I assume this story was revolutionary at its time in treating love between two men as something beautiful, if doomed. For me, here in 2022 though a good deal of what I see is not the liberation but the shame and self-loathing. There are constant biting asides talking about the loathsomeness of "fairies", how appalling it was to see a man behave in an "effeminate" way. There are also constant reminders that the "good" gay men also desired women. Giovanni and David both stress how much they enjoy(ed) sex with women. It is only the old queens, depicted as predators looking to seduce straight young boys with cash and prizes who only like boys.

Even the characters' physical surroundings and daily activities convey the message "homosexual=less than." Giovanni and David roll around in bed all day, accomplish nothing but drinking cognac and fucking in a decaying shell of a servant's room, barely within city limits, with peeling wallpaper and dirty sheets and pungent bodies. David and Hella, on the other hand, lie together in clean sheets, scrubbed sweet-smelling underclothing hanging from the bathroom rail. They pop out to take day trips around France or to stroll - always on the Right Bank bien sur. I understand that at the time pride was not something LGBTQ+ people could get to, what with the day to day burden of surviving and staying out of jail. That knowledge does not remove the sting of recognizing that what Giovanni and David had was considered a dream, that this was a comparatively positive look at life for gay men, that this limited and necessarily tragic existence was aspirational.

The world is now a very different place and when reading this now ione sees some warts. The book remains beautiful and revolutionary it a way, and now it is a reminder of just how recently so many of the people around us were denied the opportunity to even try to have a simple, mundane life of contentment and how many people suffered as a result (David's father and Hella were both caught in the crossfire, and suffered a great deal.) Also worth mentioning, the discussion of trans women and women in general is appalling. Hella lamenting her interest in the world and begging to just be controlled by a man made me shudder. Giovanni laughing about how women need to be beaten was even worse. Audre Lorde called out Baldwin on being hateful to women and she was so right. (For a snippet of that google James Baldwin and Audre Lorde and you will find a widely available conversation between then that was published in Ebony I think or maybe it was Jett? It is short and worth the read for sure. GR won't let me link.)

So at the end of this non-review where I think out my feelings in front of everyone who cares to watch, I heartily recommend that everyone read this book. It is a 4.5 rather than a 5 because the final 20ish pages were a bit ridiculously melodramatic IMO, for the misogyny when Baldwin knew better, and because there are a couple other books by Baldwin I thought were a whole lot better, and I felt the need to distinguish that -- had this book been written by a less accomplished writer than Baldwin perhaps I would have notched up to a 5. Vive la Baldwin. ( )
3 vote Narshkite | Mar 1, 2022 |
[Giovanni's Room] by [[James Baldwin]]

James Baldwin is a masterful writer. There is something about the way he understands and uses the English language that I find impressive but not pretentious. [Giovanni's Room] is a short novel about a young American man who is living in Paris and experimenting with love. David is engaged to a woman named Hella, but while she is traveling, he takes up with a young man named Giovanni and they develop a passionate relationship. As David attempts to untangle his feelings, lives around him fall apart.

This is a short novel that packs a huge punch. The events are dramatic, and David's actions and indecision set into motion a string of events that he doesn't intend. I'm looking forward to continuing to read more by Baldwin. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Feb 16, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
what draws lovers of the book to its story of betrayal and the possibility of redemption through truth and, ultimately, to the question of the body as home, is the vision of Baldwin stumbling through it, sure-footed and alone, walking toward the idea that love may come attached with different ideas of what it should look like, feel like, but in the end, it’s what you do with its responsibilities that renders you genderless — and human.
added by danielx | editNew York Times, Hilton Als (May 5, 2019)
added by gsc55 | editHearts on Fire, Delta (May 11, 2013)

» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Baldwin, Jamesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Butler, DanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Phillips, CarylIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prinsen, G.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I am the man, I suffered, I was there.
- Whitman
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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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Gleich darauf aber, als ich auf die wartenden Menschen zugehe, treibt der Wind ein paar Fetzen zu mir zurück.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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. 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.

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Average: (4.15)
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141186356, 0141032944


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