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Sonny's Blues (Penguin 60s) Paperback – 6 Jul 1995

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Paperback, 6 Jul 1995
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Product details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd (6 July 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0146000137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0146000133
  • Product Dimensions: 0.1 x 0.1 x 0.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 415,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This short story is in a way the precursor of Just Above My Head. The first half or so is drastically bleak and so accumulative of dramatic horror that it makes me think of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth who definitely protests too much.

We are dealing here with two brothers, the elder one being an algebra school teacher, the younger one being a musician, a pianist, after a long period of erring and loitering on the wrong side of life, needle and company limited and incorporated.

This is redoubled with their father who was also the elder brother of his younger brother he saw one Saturday night being run over into a pulp by a band of white people in a car in a hit and run that presented no possible recourse or appeal. Accidental death is not a crime, is it? At least when the accidental murderer is white and the victim black.

Our elder brother learns about it from their mother just after their father's death. The elder brother is sent to the war in Europe and during that time the younger brother, Sonny, is to survive with his elder brother's wife's family. He plays the piano all he can till they find out he has been missing school. Then he runs away, into the navy, and then when he comes back he gets into the needle till he ends up in a special medical center. When he comes out he is accepted by his elder brother but with a tremendous suspicion.

Add to that the fact that the elder brother has two sons but between them there was a girl who did not survive polio and died at the age of two. The same situation as Hall Montana's in Just Above My Head.

The whole story is built around the transmission of past horror from one generation to the next and thus the perpetuation of evil forever.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Sonny comes home to his brother after his dope addiction 20 Nov. 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Unknown Binding
Sonny's Blues is a well written book by James Baldwin that captures the feeling of a recovering dope addicted young black man, Sonny, who is seeking a new life with his brother in Harlem with his jazz music as a way of telling his life story. It begins by Sonny's brother finding out in a newspaper that Sonny had been serving a jail sentence for his use of heroin. After a few years of not talking to one another, Sonny sends his brother a letter telling him how much he needed to hear from him while he was away in jail and that when he gets out he wants to meet him in New York. When they meet, they talk and his brother finds himself getting upset after everything Sonny says whether it is about his addiction or about him wanting to be a jazz musician. Sonny's brother is a teacher and he is worried about what Sonny is going to do with his life, so he sends Sonny to live with his in-laws to go to school, but Sonny never goes and he stays in the house the whole time playing music on their piano. Since the brothers are parentless, Sonny's brother is taking on the role of his parents to get Sonny' s life headed in the right direction. Before their mother died she told Sonny's brother a story of how her husband's brother died. Him and his brother were coming home from a club one night, feeling really good after drinking, when a car full of white people sped towards his brother and ran over him, killing him instantly. Since his mother told him that story, Sonny's brother has been worried about his younger brother and where he is going in life. The book concludes with Sonny bringing his brother to a club where he was going to perform with two other black guys on his piano. After listening to him play, Sonny's brother soon heard Sonny's life told and explained in his music, and then that is when his brother understood what Sonny has been going through and what direction he is headed.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Identity in America 3 May 2002
By Annette Torrez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Unknown Binding
This remarkable piece by James Baldwin is about the love of two brothers in a black society. He depicts this in the following excerpt, "Safe, hell! Ain't no place safe for kids, nor nobody," which depicts the streets in which Sonny and his brother grew up. Identity is a big theme in this literary work. Two black men are trying to find themselves and each other in an unforgiving American society.
Sonny and his brother grow up in a home whose uncle was killed as a young man. However, Sonny's father did not want them to know about the brutal world outside on the streets that they walked upon everyday. He wanted them to feel safe and not afraid. Prior to their mother's death she revealed this to Sonny, who by this time had a rocky relationship with his younger brother, uses this information to make amends with his younger brother. He actually starts listening to what his brother has to say and what his desires are for himself. Instead of pushing ideas that Sonny thought would make for a good future for his brother he learned to appreciate his brother's talent. He loosens his control over his younger brother and allows him to be himself. He lets love take the upper hand.
This is a inspirational story about a few African Americans who are each striving to find their own identities-one wants so desperately to be heard while the other is desperately smothering him until finally they realize who they are and the long road that awaits each of them.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Sonny's Blues and two other stories 19 Sept. 2012
By BAYOUGATOR - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first heard about this book on an educational TV channel (just in the last few months). The excerpts from it caught my attention, so I tried the library and various other sources to borrow/buy it without success. All I could find were study guides and such. Then after buying it from a used book dealer in UK, I read it cover-to-cover in record time.

I highly recommend this to anyone, because it is classic literature and also carries a powerful message of human emotions, feelings, prejudice, etc.

I loved it!

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Becoming Who You Are 9 July 2014
By Jim Altfeld - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Sonny's Blues is a masterful work written by one of America's greatest writers about living in and escaping from Harlem. Some great lines and terrific phrasing. If you're looking for a mindless book (short story) that you don't have to think about, this is NOT it. The perspectives, flow and dialogue come together like a symphony. Enjoy!
A tale of an African American family in 20th century america, where every word contributes to the effect of the story 7 Oct. 2014
By Cynthia S. Haggard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” is about a black family in twentieth-century America, particularly about the un-named narrator and his younger brother Sonny. After time in jail for peddling heroin, Sonny returns to his brother’s home in a housing project in Harlem.

At the end of the story, Sonny, out of jail and back home with his brother, rediscovers his lifeline, the one thing that makes his life worth living, his music. But his first attempts to play piano are rocky:

And Sonny hadn’t been near a piano for over a year. And he wasn’t on much better terms with his life, not the life that stretched before him now. He and the piano stammered, started one way, got scared, stopped; started another way, panicked, marked time, started again; then seem to have found a direction, panicked again, got stuck (49)

The rhythm of the sentences mirrors Sonny’s panicky attempts to play jazzHonkyTonk. The first two sentences start with ‘And’, a short word that sounds like a gulp. In the third sentence, one can almost hear Sonny try to play. The sentence is full of clauses of different lengths, that mirror the lengths of the musical phrases. So Sonny and the piano stammer, they “started one way”, “got scared”, “stopped,” started another way” and so on. What is so brilliant about this passage is that you don’t have to know anything about jazz to hear it. Each word contributes to the effect. Five Stars.
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