Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (1956)

Paris in July - Year Ten. -- Hosted by Thyme for Tea

So far as my participation in Paris In July Year Ten I have read

1.  Colette- Two Early Short Stories
2. The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano
3. "A Duel" by Guy de Maupassant ( A Franco-Prussian War Story)
4. Life, Death, and Betrayal at The Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar Mazzeo (non fiction)
5. How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yolem (literary history)
6. "The Lost Child" by Francois Coppée
7. "The Juggler of Norte Dame" by Anatole France- no post
8. A Very French Christmas- A Collection of the Greatest Holiday Stories of France
9. "The Illustrious Gaudissart" by Honore de Balzac
10. After the Circus by Patrick Modiano
11. "Gaudissart Ii" by Honore de Balzac
12. 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Phillipe Blondel
13. "Noel" by Irene Nemirovsky
14. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

James Baldwin was

Born August 2, 1924 in New York City

Died December 1, 1987 in Saint Paul - Vence, France.

He moved to Paris, age 24, in 1948 to escape the pervasive prejudice against African Americans and Gays in America.  It was a time of racial hatred and homophobia. He would return to American occasionally, active in the Civil Rights Movement, but he would always consider Paris his home.  (Wikipedia has a decent article on him.). Baldwin emerged himself in the cultural Life of Paris, finally feeling free to be and express himself.

The last time I read a novel by James Baldwin he was still alive to receive the small royalties from my purchase of his paperbacks.  I read several of his books but missed his now highest regarded novel, the set in Paris Giovanni's Room.  I am very glad Paris in July motivated me to at last read this wonderful work.

Back in 1956 books dealing openly about Gay life were controversial and I suspect those by an African American much more so.  His publisher advised him his African American readers might be turned off to him by this book.

David is a young American man living in Paris.  He had a Gay encounter back in Brooklyn and has moved to Paris to find himself and get away from the domination of his wealthy father, who feared he was homosexual, I think the term "gay" was not in currency then.  His girlfriend has gone to Spain for a while to decide if she wants to marry David or not.  Through an older gay man he knows David ends up at the bar where Giovanni works as a bartender. They end the evening having sex in Giovanni's room, David moves into the room three days later.  We learn about
Parisian Gay bars.  Life in this world was much different pre-aids.

The narration is structured as David recalling his experiences with David and his fiancé, on the night before Giovanni is to be guillotined for murdering the owner of the bar in which he had worked, having been fired.

There is a lot more in this work.  David has sex with his fiancé but it as almost as if his gay identity is spectating on himself.  It is also very much about class, about being an American in Paris.

Giovanni's Room is a GLBT classic.  I am so glad I at last have read this book.  I should note Baldwin was brought at an early age to love reading to escape from an oppressive step-father.

I really like the image above of Baldwin at the tomb of Honore de Balzac.  Balzac wrote brilliantly about gay characters and the homosexual subculture of Paris in the 1830s.

Mel u
The Reading Life


Buried In Print said...

I have only read Go Tell it on the Mountain, but it was enough to make me think that I wanted to read everything he'd written. This one always sounds amazing. And, wow, what a lot of Paris you've "seen" in your reading this month: wonderful!

Suko said...

Excellent, succinct review! I read this short book a few years ago.

james b chester said...

It's been several decades since I read this one, and several years since I've read James Baldwin. It does seem like an excellent choice for Paris in July. It's not just pre-AIDS, it's pre-Stonewall. Things are very different now.