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Giovanni's Room (Penguin Great Loves) Paperback – 2 Aug 2007
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When David meets the sensual Giovanni in a bohemian bar, he is swept into a passionate love affair. But his girlfriend's return to Paris destroys everything. Unable to admit to the truth, David pretends the liaison never happened - while Giovanni's life descends into tragedy. United by the theme of love, the writings in the Great Loves series span over two thousand years and vastly different worlds. Readers will be introduced to love's endlessly fascinating possibilities and extremities: romantic love, platonic love, erotic love, gay love, virginal love, adulterous love, parental love, filial love, nostalgic love, unrequited love, illicit love, not to mention lost love, twisted and obsessional love...
About the Author
Born in Harlem in 1924, James Baldwin was a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, social critic, and the author of more than twenty books. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, appeared in 1953 to excellent reviews, and his essay collection The Fire Next Time was a bestseller that made him an influential figure in the civil rights movement. Baldwin spent many years in France, where he moved to escape the racism and homophobia of the United States. He died in 1987.
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Although I am straight, and have never been remotely interested in men...I have a sympathy for anyone going through any kind of emotional turmoil.
David, the narrator, has a sentience which is impossible to me, and every moment would be painful if I was that aware of my feelings...but it's Baldwin's psychological clarity which is the punch of the book. Its USP.
David finds himself, loses himself, and breaks the continuity with his old life and American destiny in a grubby little room belonging to the charismatic Giovanni. In France, homosexuality was permissible, unlike in the UK, but people's dalliances and relationships were mostly clandestine and hidden away from the respectable veneer of society. Young men, knowing their life could never be accepted in the mainstream, find themselves at the mercy of poorly paid jobs, with no future. And many rely on the patronage of wealthy men, who prey on them in the shadows of Paris.
That Baldwin was a black man, living in Paris, is notable. But despite the obvious struggles Baldwin must have faced in America and France with his ethnicity, there isn't a trace of that in the book. But there is an intensity to sexual politics. And the character of David's girlfriend, Hella, is drawn with sympathetic attention to her own struggles, both as a woman...and as someone who realises the person she loves, she didn't really know at all.
The book is packed with scenes of Old World coquetry, juicy repartee and riveting conversation between lovers. I wonder how often Woody Allen has read Giovanni's room. I was so captivated by Baldwin's prose that I read the entire book in three hours. Giovanni's Room shows James Baldwin at his finest - in supreme control of the English language. Using the language, Baldwin paints a vivid, rich and compelling narrative about the joys, pains and contradictions in homosexual love. I salute James Baldwin's achievement.
Baldwin's prose though, is what makes this a stand out classic. His craftsmanship is, at times, breath-taking; whether he is describing the less salubrious districts of Paris or the tortured workings of the protagonist's desires, his style is sharp, beautifully precise and leaves a lasting impression.
I can not recommend this book highly enough; it is certainly one that reverberates through the years and leaves a lasting impression.
The relationships fail because of David's fear of being honest to himself and others, and because of the fear of the reaction of others.
It is a gay-themed story set in the 1950s but David is also Everyman. The times and attitudes may have changed but Baldwin's story is not a museum piece.
This is not an uplifting story but is still recommended.
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