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Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)

by James Baldwin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5,0931041,760 (3.87)435
Describes a day in the life of several members of a Harlem fundamentalist church. The saga of three generations of people is related through flashbacks.
1950s (14)
My TBR (116)
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» See also 435 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 101 (next | show all)
Fantastic family drama. A family’s history unfurls slowly over the course of a day in the Pentecostal church. Baldwin’s characters speak the Bible fluidly, and weave it through America’s history of racism. ( )
  jscape2000 | Aug 28, 2022 |
Go Tell It On the Mountain is James Baldwin’s first novel. Published in 1953 to almost universally favorable reviews, Baldwin himself was held up as a young novelist of much promise, as indeed he proved to be. The book is often considered by critics to be his best novel.

This is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story. John, the protagonist in the story, is the son (he learns later that he’s actually the step-son) of a stern fundamentalist preacher. The story takes place on John’s fourteenth birthday and revolves around his blossoming awareness of himself, both sexually and religiously.

Much of the book takes place in flashback, and includes deep dives into the characters of John’s father Gabriel, his mother Elizabeth, and his aunt Florence. These stories are imbued with sex, religion, the church’s warnings on the sins of the flesh, and the dangers of being black in an America only a generation removed from slavery.

Baldwin, like John, was the stepson of a fierce fundamentalist preacher born of a slave. (There is some uncertainty about his stepfather’s exact birth date. It’s possible he was born before Emancipation and thus a slave himself as a young child.) Baldwin followed briefly in his father’s footsteps, delivering fiery sermons in his father’s church at the age of 13. But by seventeen the fire and excitement of the church had faded, and instead, as he wrote in an essay, “there was no love in the church. It was a mask for hatred and self-hatred and despair.”

It’s clear from the intensity of the writing that this is a deeply personal book for Baldwin. His depiction of the characters are multifaceted and empathetic. Their struggles are intense and very realistic.

In keeping with the story of a Pentecostal preacher’s son, a good portion of the book is related through religious experience, and using terminology common to fundamentalist thought. While this does help give additional insight into the characters it can also make it harder to understand for anyone personally unfamiliar with that experience (like me).

This is especially true in the last part of the book, which relates the story of John being “saved” in the church on the evening of his birthday. John is struck with visions and falls to the floor. His visions are related through religiously weighted allegory as he struggles with his own sin, his relationship with his father, and his conflicted feelings for Elisha, a slightly older youth active in his father’s church.

Now that I’ve read the book and have had a chance to reflect on it I can say that it is powerfully written and intensely felt, and a brilliant novel. But at the same time it’s also dense, dark and depressing. I set the book down many times, and each time I let a few days pass before picking it back up again.

I read Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room last year and gave it five stars. The two books are both semi-autobiographical and share the author’s intense storytelling style and brilliantly depicted characters. But without the religiosity Giovanni’s Room is a much easier read. In my review of Giovanni’s Room I said that I hated to come to the end of the book. But Go Tell It On the Mountain left me drained. While I was glad that I’d read it, I was also glad it was over.

Rating: Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐
( )
  stevesbookstuff | May 30, 2022 |
My first Baldwin (his as well!), and a book i likely would have hesitated to read had i known what it was about....but strangely, I definitely got caught up in it. It is basically one somewhat tumultuous day in the life of the Grimes family in Harlem on John's 14th birthday, and a trip to Saturday night church meeting......gripping??? NO. Yet, we are then taken on a trip through the history of the adults and what brought them to this point in time, revealing that we are all such complex products of our past, good, bad, & indifferent. We witness the entire story through John's perspective as he struggles to find out how to choose a path forward in his own life. It felt very real, and in spite of the very heavy fundamentalist Bible-thumping theme, I was anxious to move forward all the time. ( )
  jeffome | Apr 2, 2022 |
I read this book as an Audiobook checked out of the county library. First time I read anything by James Baldwin. An amazing piece of writing. ( )
  MrDickie | Oct 4, 2021 |
Incredible wonderful fantastic amazing warm true painful honest beautiful lyrical meaningful

I was a bit lost during the sermons and religious sections / visions so if any of you spot a course or detailed in depth breakdown on this book online somewhere send it my way. ( )
  RebeccaBooks | Sep 16, 2021 |
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» Add other authors (55 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Baldwinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bosch, AndrésTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brown, DanIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cosgrave, John O'HaraIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Danticat, EdwidgeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, DianeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, LeoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lazarre-White, AdamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Hagan, AndrewIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Yentus, HelenCover designersecondary 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
First words
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.)
Disambiguation notice
First edition was in 1953. Corgi editions show copyright date as 1954. The US Catalog of copyright entries for Jan-June 1953 details that application for copyright stated that 'the section "Exodus" appeared in the Aug. 1952 issue of American mercury, and "Roy's wound" in New world writing, 1952'.
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Describes a day in the life of several members of a Harlem fundamentalist church. The saga of three generations of people is related through flashbacks.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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