Until now I have only read James Baldwin‘s nonfiction works, which have largely been focused on racism and the civil rights movement in the United States. Giovanni’s Room therefore represents my first foray into Baldwin’s literary fiction repertoire. It was to say the least a resounding success. Baldwin is a talented writer who has a compelling, unique style of writing that is moving and savagely beautiful – he always seems to find the exact words to capture feelings and emotions. His character development and scene setting impeccably and vividly brings 1950’s Paris to life in all of its shameless glory. For example, his description of Madame Clothilde, who sat behind the counter near the cash register at a dive bar, is indelibly etched in my mind:
“Though some are white-haired and some not, some fat, some thin, some grandmothers, and some but lately virgins, they all have exactly the same shrewd, vacant, all-registering eye; it is difficult to believe that they ever cried for milk, or looked at the sun; it seems they must have come into the world hungry for banknotes, and squinting helplessly, unable to focus their eyes until they came to rest on a cash-register.”
Giovanni’s Room is like a canvas on which Baldwin has painted with masterful strokes of literary finesse. In my view, this novel goes beyond just the tale of the romantic love between two men, Giovanni, and the main protagonist, David. It is above all a tragic story of love, heartbreak, loss and betrayal, which shines a spotlight on the complexity of human relationships regardless of sexual preference. The only very minor quibble I have with Giovanni’s Room is Baldwin’s prolific peppering of the narrative with French phrases. He does not always adequately translate them, which may make the story less easy to read for those who are not familiar with French. Overall, I would recommend Giovanni’s Room to anyone on its merits as work of pure literary art.
Have you read Giovanni’s Room? or any of James Baldwin’s other works? What are your thougts after reading his writing? What do you find most captivating about his literary work? Thanks as always for stopping by! Please feel free to share your thoughts or reactions in a comment below. Also, if you would like to receive more updates about my writing please consider joining my newsletter mailing list by subscribing below.