giovanni's room

Title :: Giovanni's Room
Author :: James Baldwin
Completed :: Feb 12 2008
Challenges :: 1001 Books
Rating :: 4/5

I stand at the window of the great house in the south of France as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life.

I started my literary conquest of the great 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die last year - some books have been challenges but others have been true literary gems, Giovanni's Room is one of those gems. I found it very poetic and quite different from Go Tell it on the Mountain which I had read back in December. So different in fact that I had to double check that the two James Baldwins were in fact the same author. However, both novels deal with the question of identity and the complexity of social pressures brought on by being black or homosexual. I think maybe the writing style is what made me feel that both books were written by two different authors.

Giovanni's Room opens with David waiting for the most terrible morning of his life when his lover, Giovanni will be executed. The novel then looks back at the moments that lead up to the execution. They span all the way back to David's childhood in New York where he had his first homosexual experience, something that afterwards leaves him confused as to who he is and slightly embarrassed by the situation. This embarrassment leads to him bullying the boy in order to establish his manliness. When David is older he moves to France where he falls in love with a woman named Hella, also coincidentally from the United States. When he proposes marriage Hella up and leaves for Spain in order to contemplate marriage with David. David is then left alone until he meets Giovanni an emigrant from Italy. The two becomes lovers but David continues to struggle with his sexual identity and ends up leaving Giovanni when Hella returns from Spain.

Baldwin's novel is definitely an exploration of self identity and the fear of homophobia. To me David seems so afraid to be what he is, he's absolutely suffocated by this fear of how he will be viewed that he can't seem to just let go and be. I think almost everyone can relate to this if they've ever been caught up in how they are viewed by the world that life sometimes becomes an act and you forget to just be who you are. By choosing Hella in the end it seems that David takes the easy way out so that he can fall within "social norms". Giovanni on the other hand appears to be completely comfortable with the relationship and is prepared to prove that two men can have a life together. David's rejection however, leads Giovanni to commit an act that leads to him imminent execution. Overall I think Baldwin succeeded in writing a novel portraying the inner struggle we go through in order to define our identity and having the will to let that identity be visible to the rest of the world. The particular copy of this book that I read, pictured above, is a part of Penguin's Great Loves series : this ones fall in the category, Love is dishonest.

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . limit to your love . feist . the reminder .


posted by Ashleigh @ 21:45,


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random field notes

    ashleigh (ash'lė) n.
    1: egyptologist; currently living in the uk attempting to obtain a phd in egyptology, hoping in the end there will be a job.
    2: literary; reading to escape reality, to improve conversation, for inspiration.
    3: crafter; crocheting and needlework, creating heirlooms, keeping the world warm.
    4: dreamer; head in the clouds, full of fantasies, wishing to be someone else, somewhere else.
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:: reading ::
: Ivanhoe . Walter Scott
: Schindler's Ark . Thomas Keneally
: The Amber Spyglass . Philip Pullman
: The Red Queen . Margaret Drabble
: Un Lun Dun . China Miéville
: A Handful of Dust . Evelyn Waugh
: Adjunct: An Undigest . Peter Manson
: A Kestral for a Knave . Barry Hines

:: recently finished ::
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: Written on the Body . Jeanette Winterson
: The Bell Jar . Sylvia Plath
: No One Writes to the Colonel . Gabriel García Márquez
: The Subtle Knife . Philip Pullman

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