I think I have another favourite writer.
Last year I read If Beale street could talk and loved it. If you can say that about a book so raw and powerful, that I chickened out from watching the movie adaptation. Then recently, Baldwin keeps appearing everywhere, interviews, talks, articles and essays… and I really began to think it was the universe that was trying to tell me something.
I don’t know why I chose this particular novel… and I’ve been sitting on it since finishing because I don’t even know where to start talking about it.
On so many levels.
The story is simple, the protagonist in an American living in Paris, he’s engaged and while his fiancé is away travelling in Spain he begins a passionate love affair with Giovanni… she returns, and his choices will have tragic consequences. It’s a story about love, about finding out who we are, about society, about fear, about mistakes and accepting and deceiving ourselves.
It’s a long poem. Every sentence so full of meaning and subtlety and piercingly accurate observation on feelings and what is it that makes us who we are or who we want to be, on what it was like to be gay or bisexual when it was still considered immoral and was still illegal to be so.
And it’s sad. Heartbreakingly sad. You want to reach into the pages and shout ‘it’s ok, who you are it’s ok, it’s more than ok’…
The fact it was written in 1956, when homosexuality was a crime in many countries, is also astonishing. And it’s also interesting that the author is black and writes about white characters, given the debate raging these days about the ‘appropriateness’ or the capacity of an author to really being able to do that. Personally I don’t see any issues of this in the novel at all. James Baldwin left the US at the age of 24 and moved to France because he wanted to be seen as more than simply an Afro-American writer, which is what he was seen as in the US; he was a poet, a political activist, an essayist… he left behind him so many powerful words.
I urge you to read it. It will leave you richer… and a little heartbroken too.