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Just Above My Head (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 27 Oct 1994

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (27 Oct. 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140187995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140187991
  • Product Dimensions: 0.1 x 0.1 x 0.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 277,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Born in Harlem in 1924, Baldwin had an early career as a teenage preacher. He lived in Paris from 1948-1956 and his first novels, the autobiographical GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN and GIOVANNI'S ROOM established him as a promising novelist and anticipated some of the themes of his later works, such as racism and sexuality. He became a prominent spokesperson for racial equality, especially during the civil rights movement. He lived in France during his last years. Baldwin died in 1987.

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
THE damn'd blood burst, first through his nostrils, then pounded through the veins in his neck, the scarlet torrent exploded through his mouth, it reached his eyes and blinded him, and brought Arthur down, down, down, down, down. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought and read this on the back of Giovanni's Room which is one of my favourite books of all time. I found this to be just as good, dealing with issues of sexuality with subtlety and deftness. The characterisation and narratives are stunning. I learned a lot about the ways in which the Southern Blacks viewed the Northern Blacks in the States - something which I was unaware of and found facscinating.
Stylistically, Baldwin would make a brilliant subject for further or deeper study; his peculiarities of syntax and structure are something you'll either love or find frustrating. So why no five stars - I found some of the philosophising passages dull and ponderous. The actual novel at 600 words could have been more rigourously edited - although I'm not adverse to a good long one, this stretched me slightly... and I actually wanted it to finish. If the emphasis had stayed more with the narrative, the stories of peanut and Crunch for example in the way that the characterisation was detailed and fluid in 'Just Above My Head', I would have been more satisfied. Try the latter first - it's more condensed and immediate with just the right mixture of horror and beauty.
All this aside, Baldwin is my find of the decade so far and the elements which prevented me from awarding this five stars will certainly not prevent me from investigating this long lost genius further. I'm amazed he's not famous, or that the narratives haven't been converted into film - perhaps symptomatic of a world which despite a superficiality of acceptance, still prefers 'gay lite' and 'black lite'.
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By A Customer on 2 Aug. 2002
Format: Hardcover
You only need to read the first couple of pages in this book to understand it's importance. "Just Above My Head" combines nearly every theme covered by James Baldwin in previous novels; homosexuality, race, class, religion and betrayal - and confirms him as one of the most important writers to have come out of America.
It opens with a man mourning the death of his brother. Each sentence is filled with grief. It's clear that this isn't going to be an easy read but also clear is that Baldwin has put his heart and soul into every word.
This is simply one of the best books I've ever read. It's THE James Baldwin novel and a deserved candidate for the "Great American Novel." Stunning.
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Format: Paperback
To review such a novel is like establishing the 3D map of a continent without a computer. It is a nearly impossible task in less than, one hundred thousand words. I will spare you that.

The novel is in the first person and apart from two pages (548-551 in my edition that counts 557 pages) the man telling the story is Hall Montana, the elder brother of the main character Arthur Montana. The two pages are at the end of the novel and then for this very short moment Jimmy Miller, the friend and lover of Arthur Montana, is taking over. I can see two reasons why the author chose that first person story telling from cover to cover.

The first and most important one is to be able to explore the psychology of the characters, of the narrator of course but also of the other characters by making them tell their stories or their sides of the story to the narrator. This is artificial of course, but that's the main difference with Richard Wright: events are not the main substance of the novel but the prompters of psychological reactions and exploration. Thus Hall Montana has to be the confidant of all the characters, particularly his younger brother. This is a story telling trick in many ways but it gives the novel its second characteristic.

The book has a tremendous autobiographical dimension which is supposed to make us believe the story which at times does not correspond to Hall Montana's possible knowledge, for example Paris, though the author of the novel does know Paris like both sides of his right hand. This is the great danger of this novel and it is essential not to fall in such an easy and gaping trap.

Any attempt at trying to say or believe that this is James Baldwin's life would be completely misguided.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Set mainly among black communities in desegregating America during the 1950s-1970s, with shorter periods in London and Paris, this long, powerful, passionate novel, one of Baldwin's best, explores with bitter, searing honesty, in language that both sings and has an angry beat, the lives of a group of friends and their families. It shows how they are shaped by the discrimination and violence of the society around them, often overt, by the love they feel for each other (straight, gay, bisexual, familial, non-sexual), by the ties of black history, music, language, humour and culture. It's a rich, complex and moving mix; but for so profound a novel, it is not difficult to read.

It's told by Hall Montana who, writing in his forties, is trying to reclaim the memory of that period - and the memory of his beloved younger brother Arthur, who dies young. The story centres around Arthur, a talented gospel singer who is destined to become famous in his mid-twenties. Arthur has a teenage love affair with an older member of his gospel group, Crunch; it's a first love, and like most first loves it subsequently shapes his approach to his homosexuality: these passages are beautifully evoked, full of tenderness and passion - few writers can describe love-making with such beauty. But Crunch, like Hall and other members of the gospel group, are drafted into the Korean war, and Arthur's forced to go it alone. For large chunks of the narrative he is absent, on tour, abroad, and we could be forgiven for thinking the novel was more about Hall and his circle than Arthur; we catch up with him from time to time, and he re-emerges at the end to take centre stage again.
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