Wednesday, March 30, 2011

[Book Review] GIOVANNI'S ROOM by James Baldwin

Fiction/African American

Audrey reviews GIOVANNI'S ROOM by James Baldwin (Modern Library reprint, 2001).

This book is a classic of American literature. The second of Baldwin’s novels and published in 1956 while he lived as an expatriate in France, Giovanni’s Room recounts the tortured musings of a young American man, David, during several months in Paris. David’s primary struggle is with his sexuality. He cannot accept his identity as a gay man, and careens back and forth between a relationship with Hella, a forthright but ultimately conventional young woman, and Giovanni, a beautiful, intense and desperate young man.

Ultimately, the novel ends in tragedy – David leaves Giovanni, Hella leaves David, Giovanni is convicted and sentenced to death for murder of his former employer. David decides to return to the States, but is irrevocably changed by his experiences. The ending is ambiguous – will David learn from these tragedies, or merely continue to be haunted by them?

But while the book is certainly dark and brooding, I did not find it depressing. David’s struggle parallels that of many trying to find an authentic life, but lacking the courage to do so. Giovanni’s Room is a classic “coming of age” novel. It is written in very poetic language, and French phrases are sprinkled liberally throughout, so readers may want a French-English dictionary nearby. But at under 200 pages, it’s a quick read, and a rewarding and thought-provoking one.

Audrey May, LINC Department

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