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Notes of a Native Son: 3rd Edition - Including the 1984 Author's Preface (Beacon Paperback) Paperback – 1 Mar 1992


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Product details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; New Ed edition (1 Mar 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807064319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807064313
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 547,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 6 Jun 2011
Format: Paperback
This is an absolutely wonderful book of essays about growing up, making a career, and being black in the US in the 1950-60s. Just the chapter on his step-father - an angry, brilliant, difficult man - is worth the price of admission. Beyond the black experience, everyone who has fought with a tough dad will empathise with Baldwin. Then there is a piece on living in France as a young writer, again it is unbelievably dense, funny, and moving, a true masterpiece of the genre of autobiographical essays. His style is so cool and clear, so icily brilliant, that any aspiring writer can study the style, as did I.

This book, in my opinion, has Baldwin's best work in it, of a quality that earns him a place in the literary canon. The essays really are far far better than any of his novels, in my opinion. While some of them are less than excellent journalistic pieces (A Fly in the Buttermilk about school integration), the best ones are, well, the best.

Warmly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By L. R. Richardson on 28 Oct 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a collection of Baldwin's essays. They are excellently written, and I enjoyed his ruminations on being an ex-patriate and how colour lines blur when nationalities are thrown into the mix. I also liked his commentary on race, gender, and sexuality, of course, but the bits on ex-patriotism will stay with me the most, but only because I myself am an expatriate. These essays are essential reading in any sort of race, gender, or sexuality class.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 26 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Angry, humorous, reflective essays on being a black American 24 Oct 2004
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The ten essays in this collection were originally published in Commentary, Partisan Review, Harper's, and other national periodicals during the late 1940s and early 1950s; Baldwin revised a few essays, arranged them by theme, and added "Autobiographical Notes" as a preface. They are among the most compelling, insightful pieces ever written on what it means to be an American and, in particular, what means to be a black American. "The story of the Negro in America is the story of America," Baldwin writes, "or, more precisely, it is the story of Americans. It is not a pretty story: the story of a people is never very pretty."

"Everybody's Protest Novel" and "Many Thousands Gone" both discuss the portrayal of blacks in American fiction (beginning with "Uncle Tom's Cabin") and contain harsh criticism of Richard Wright's "Native Son"--comments which permanently ended their tempestuous friendship. Baldwin next directs his ire (and wit) at the ridiculous stereotypes in the all-black film "Carmen Jones." These are not mere reviews, however; the strength of these three essays is Baldwin's ability to offer general comments about societal matters based on a few examples. The second essay is particularly noteworthy because Baldwin writes as if he, like most of his readers, were white. This technique allow him to imply that, on the one hand, as a native-born American, he can easily comprehend the view of the "dominant" culture, yet, on the other hand, the black experience is something white Americans will never understand--that the majority assumption is "that the black man, to become truly human and acceptable, must first become like us."

The next three essays offer social commentary. "The Harlem Ghetto" describes life in Baldwin's neighborhood, examines the importance of the Negro press, and (undoubtedly with the readers of Commentary in mind) focuses especially on the ongoing tensions between Jews and blacks. In "Journey to Atlanta," Baldwin tells how his brother's church quartet was sent by the Progressive Party to Atlanta, ostensibly to sing at church events, but inevitably as free labor for canvassing activities--with no pay, poor lodging, and substandard food. In the end, the four young men were left to fend for themselves, struggling to earn money for their tickets back to New York. The final essay, "Notes of a Native Son," is a poignant eulogy for Baldwin's stepfather, including a hair-raising account of Baldwin's near-suicidal attempt to rebel again Jim Crow rules in New Jersey.

Baldwin's life in Europe takes up the last section. The first three essays describe the "social limbo" that greets Americans--white and black--in Paris and the "invisibility" of American blacks there; it includes the horrifying account of Baldwin's arrest and imprisonment for a hotel bedsheet stolen by an acquaintance. The final essay ends the collection on a humorous, sometimes touching, and ultimately contemplative note: what it's like to be not simply the only black man living in a Swiss resort but the only black man most of the villagers have ever seen. Baldwin realizes that "no road whatever will lead Americans back to the simplicity of this European village where white men still have the luxury of looking at me as a stranger."

What's astonishing about these essays is the balance between Baldwin's justified rage and his ability to laugh at the world--and at himself. Many of the essays resemble short stories in their structure and tension and humor, and Baldwin's writing is just as strong when he's angry as when he's lighthearted. Most important, none of these essays have dated in any significant way, and they still offer stirring insights on race and society in America.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
brilliant, vivid, and incisive insights that shd be read 13 July 2005
By Robert J. Crawford - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is an absolutely wonderful book of essays about growing up, making a career, and being black in the US in the 1950-60s. Just the chapter on his step-father - an angry, brilliant, difficult man - is worth the price of admission. Beyond the black experience, everyone who has fought with a tough dad will empathise with Baldwin. Then there is a piece on living in France as a young writer, again it is unbelievably dense, funny, and moving, a true masterpiece of the genre of autobiographical essays. His style is so cool and clear, so icily brilliant, that any aspiring writer can study the style, as did I.

This book, in my opinion, has Baldwin's best work in it, of a quality that earns him a place in the literary canon. The essays really are far far better than any of his novels, in my opinion. While some of them are less than excellent journalistic pieces (A Fly in the Buttermilk about school integration), the best ones are, well, the best.

Warmly recommended.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A Personally Seminal Collection of Essays 21 April 2013
By NRL - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title essay in Baldwin's important collection has been one of those pieces of writing that has been personally important throughout my personal and professional life. Baldwin combines his first experiences of racism with his memories of his strained relationship to his bitter father. The encounter with racism in a New Jersey restaurant where he is refused service leads Baldwin to a better understanding of his father's pain and his attempts to overcome his own.

The essay is beautifully written, artfully combining and complicating the different themes. I've used it regularly in my teaching, and regard it as one of the best pieces of twentieth-century American prose. While I'm not African American, the writing allows me at least partly to enter Baldwin's feelings about race. Equally moving for me, and I suspect for many readers, is the description of Baldwin's strained relationship to and eventual compassion for his father, and his attempts to overcome his own frustration and anger. This deeply honest and articulate essay and book is a must for anyone concerned with modern American writing and also seeking a deeper understanding of his or her own inner complexities.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Clear, moving, inspiring 9 May 2000
By S. Lewis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book stands out in my mind as one of the most inspiring that I've ever read. Baldwin exposes himself so freely, and what is revealed is a real, flawed, but ultimately very wise human being. His writing style is clear and evocative, chock full of great quotables. Read it!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Classic American essays 18 Oct 2005
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Originally published in 1955 these essays are now considered American classics. Baldwin writes with tremendous pain, humor, and insight into the situation of what was then , 'the Negro' in America. He writes with insight into the situation of the young writer striving to locate himself in relation to Western civilization as a whole-which he feels he can never wholly belong to as he strives to belong to it. He writes most powerfully about the day of the dying of his father, and the birth of his youngest sister. His description of his own family situation, and of his father's life is instructive of the whole history of insult and injury which had long been the lot of the black in America. His estrangement from his father, and yet understanding of the story of his father's suffering is one of the powerful sections of the book.

It seems to me this book also has an effect unintended and unforeseen by Baldwin. Reading it fifty years later one understands how far America has come in transforming itself in regard to the racial question. Much of the kind of discrimination Baldwin so eloquently describes in for instance his story of his first jobs, does not exist in the same way any more.

In this sense the book also has along with its literary value , value as a historical document.
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