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on 27 October 2017
A classic no doubt but it wasn't as enjoyable as I thought it would be
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on 17 September 2017
Arrived as expected - a great edition to my collection!
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on 22 August 2017
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on 22 November 2017
great delivery and a telling read
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on 17 October 2017
Great book, fast delivery.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 March 2011
This was my second reading of James Baldwin's initial novel, first read 40 some years ago, and it rang even more powerful the second time around. Baldwin is the essential chronicler of the Black American experience, in all its anguish. The novel was first published in 1953, and was primarily set in mid-Depression Harlem, with flashbacks to the rural southern antecedents of the main characters, reaching all the way back to the days of slavery. It was Florence, who must have been approaching 60, whose mother was a slave and who "lost two children to the auction block." Baldwin only briefly sketches Florence's mother, but this slender fact seemed to explain so much of the tragic and often dysfunctional family life of the descendents of those families which had been forcibly broken up.

Religion is a major theme in the novel; that particular raucous, tambourine shaking, speaking-in-tongues spirituality espoused in store-front churches that set out the folding chairs before the service. It sure does help to know the Bible to understand many of the references. If I found any weakness in the novel, and perhaps it is a personal weakness instead, it was the lengthy passages of pure "preachin'", but I persevered, knowing that it really did give the flavor of an authentic experience. Baldwin depicts a world of good and evil, with the church as the vehicle to salvation, but he is also relentless in describing the hypocritical lives of the preachers, especially Gabriel, who "falls" and falls again. Although the church is featured as the one solid bedrock that can help anchor family life, I agree with another reviewer who points out that the anchor impeded Black economic development by promising the otherworldliness of "pie in the sky," which distracted the believers from taking actions that would remedy the injustices that society imposed, as the legacy of slavery lingered.

The novel unfolds around John, the 14 year old son of Elizabeth, who is married to Gabriel. Florence is Gabriel's older sister. In part I of the book, the stage is set; all the characters are introduced, and the drama centers around the knifing of John's younger brother, Roy. In this section we learn that John is illegitimate, and that Gabriel loves his own son, Roy, more, and has pinned his hopes of salvation on him. Yet it is Roy that seems to have the "mark of the devil" on him, no doubt reflecting the same mark on his father. It is in the second part, by far the largest portion of the book, that Baldwin tells the story, each in a separate chapter, of the three principal adults: Gabriel, Florence, and Elizabeth. These portraits are dazzling, and Baldwin has immense narrative power, revealing one aspect of their lives in a sentence or two, and then several pages later explaining how this occurred. The women "who have born the weight of men," no doubt literally and metaphorically, come off the better, and the stronger. Gabriel's hypocrisy is not as all-encompassing as, say, Elmer Gantry, for he does truly struggle with the demons within. All the characters did indeed have the steep side of the mountain to climb.

There are many scenes whose depiction can take your breath away. One that I found particularly strong was a down south revival, with 20 or more preachers. The night is when the young Gabriel makes his mark as a preacher. Afterwards, the preachers partake of a banquet. They are seated separately, upstairs, the women serve them. They tell ribald jokes, and even ridicule one of their servers who had been gang-raped by whites. That woman would become Gabriel's first wife, but the insights he might have gathered from his fellow preacher's conduct did not endure.

For those who have a copy of the collection of photographs entitled The Family of Man it is impossible fo
r me to look at the picture on page 129, the black woman laying on the bedcovers, the black man sitting on the edge, each in deep middle age, obviously talking about "their troubles," without thinking that this is a picture of Gabriel and Elizabeth Grimes.

Finally, in terms of foreshadowing, one wonders when Baldwin wrote this book if he anticipated his own fate. Florence's husband dies, and is buried in France, during what was once called "The Great War.". Baldwin could no longer stomach the anguish that he depicted, eventually seeking solace in France. He is buried high on the hill, at St. Paul de Vance, overlooking the Mediterranean. A wonderful 5-star plus read, especially again.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on January 29, 2010)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 October 2017
I read James Baldwin's first novel, "Go Tell it on the Mountain" (1953) in 2012 in a book group devoted to Black Voices in literature. I have just read the book again as part of a reading group without any particular focus in its themes. Rereading the book reminded my of my friends in the Black Voices group and resulted in a moving reunion over dinner. I loved this book when I first read it and on the rereading.

Baldwin's novel is set primarily in a storefront African American Pentecostal church in Harlem in 1935 during the Great Migration. The book includes many backstories and flashbacks between life in Harlem and elsewhere in the North and life in the South. Baldwin's book explores the role of religion in African American life, North and South, and in American life. The book also offers a portrayal of race relations in the United States, both North and South, through the first half of the 20th Century. The novel has an autobiographical component and is in part a coming of age story.

The primary character in the story is John Grimes, who has just turned 14 when the story begins. The story describes John's difficult relationship with his family, including his father Gabriel, a deacon at a Harlem storefront church called the Temple of Fire Baptized, and formerly a fiery southern preacher. Other characters in John's family include his mother, Elizabeth, and Florence, Gabriel's sister and thus John's aunt. Each of these three people spent their early years in the South and ultimately found themselves in Harlem as part of the Great Migration. There are a host of other important characters in the book, including several other children of Gabriel and Elizabeth and Elisha, 17, a preacher at the Temple of Fire Baptized and John's friend, to whom John appears to have a sexual attraction.

The book is in three parts. The first part "The Seventh Day" sets the stage for the book. It takes place in the Grimes' poor apartment on John's 14th birthday as his younger brother, Roy, comes home with a stab wound. Stabbings and violence run through the novel and through the Grimes family. As the story unfolds, it develops that Gabriel had an earlier son, Royal, a wild young man, who died young from a stabbing in the throat. The family life is harsh and tense and filled with seething tension.

After a scene of violence in which Gabriel strikes his wife, the scene shifts for the lengthy second part of the book to the Temple of Fire Baptized for the Saturday evening service. It is the expressed wish of the family that John, a quiet, small, intelligent boy will find God and be saved.

Part two of the book, "The Prayers of the Saints" is the heart of the novel. The "Saints" are Gabriel, Florence, and Elizabeth together with other praying women who are faithful in their church attendance.. As they pray that Saturday evening, the minds of John's family members are filled with flashbacks of their earlier lives and relationships to each other. They grew up against a backdrop of racism, but there is much more to each of their stories.Each of the three carry heavy burdens, and none more so that the preacher, Gabriel, with a heavy secret life of guilt and sin. Their stories are vividly told and poignant.

In the final part of the book, "The Threshing Floor", John has his epiphany and salvation experience. This experience is ambiguous in character and the reader is left in skepticism about whether one would wish for such an experience or rely upon it if it happened. Baldwin describes it vividly. In a sleeting March early morning following John's conversion experience, family tensions again rise to the fore, especially in the continued angry and hateful relationship between John and Gabriel.

The book is written in a heavily omniscient third person narrative, as the narrator explores in depth the lives and secret places in the hearts of all the characters, including particularly John. The narrator's language is highly formal, elaborate, and literate full of detail, extensive description, repetition, and force. In the dialogue passages Baldwin captures the language and speech pattern of the African American South. The book is replete with Biblical allusions.

The novel shows remarkable insight into its characters, into racism, family relationship, and religion. Baldwin shows a deep appreciation for ambiguity. The books tone varies from the harsh to the compassionate. The religious themes are the strongest and most complex in the book as Baldwin explores the difficult relationship between the religious life and human sexuality. As a young man, Baldwin himself left the church where he had been an adolescent minister and never again professed adherence to any organized religion. Much the book portrays religion as sexually repressive, superstitious, and hypocritical. There is a suggestion as well that the African American churches discouraged their adherents from addressing the woeful discrimination against them. Yet there is a sense of mysticism and wonder in this book and of piety beyond the formalities. Baldwin portrays the church and the religious search with sympathy and understanding.

This book was an outstanding choice for a book group focused on Black Voices, for a more generally based book group, and for individual, private reading and thinking. The novel will bear repeated readings. It took a long time for me to find this book. "Go Tell it on the Mountain" is widely regarded as an American classic, and so it is. It deserves the accolades it has received and more.

Robin Friedman
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on 20 June 2017
Masterful storyteller. I loved this book and what Baldwin teaches me from a writer's perspective. It is my first time reading Baldwin and he did not disappoint me; not one bit. He writing is raw, enlightening and compelling. If you gain from this book consider reading his short story 'Going to Meet the Man'; it is the most compelling piece of fiction I have read aside from Flannery O'Connor's short story 'A Good Man is Hard to Find.' Both are chilling but Baldwin's is more so. Be prepared for something like you have never read before.
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on 28 October 2009
Go Tell it on the Mountain was the first novel published by well known writer James Baldwin. Loosely based on his own life, it tells the story of John, a 14-year-old boy and his family growing up Christian and African-American in Harlem, New York. The novel examines the hypocrisy of many church followers--a woman who has a child out-of-wedlock with a man she loves seems much less sinful than a fervent preacher with a hidden bastard.

The novel also looks at domestic violence, gender relatons, and of course, racial relations. I don't believe there were any white characters in this book, but there was racism all the same. People called each other racial epithets, some women used bleaching creams to try and look whiter, and they discriminate against each other based on the hue of their skin.

James Baldwin knows how to tell a tale. On some level, I empathized with every character. Baldwin has been criticized by making "uneducated" peoples' thoughts too poetic, but it makes the prose lovely to read--and who's to say you must be educated to be poetic? It's very different from Giovanni's Room, the other James Baldwin work I've read. I'd definitely recommend it as essential American literature.
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on 7 September 2017
extraordinary account. Vivid account of evangelical black church service. Terrifying depiction of racism. Although written in 1953, still speaks to the conflicts and tensions in the USA
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