Book Review – Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin is about David, an American man living in Paris who has a love affair with another man. The central conflict is David coming terms with his sexuality. When David and Giovanni first meet they have a conversation about Parisians “measuring” everything. A metaphor about David measuring his desire for a man compared to his life measuring up to society’s standard. David has made the decision to be an American in Paris to find himself. The reader finds David in Giovanni’s room. Although David has a fiancé in Hella, she’s a filler and is the manifestation of what is expected of him.

Is James Baldwin really a top notch writer? Like what does he do that has, is, still captivating readers? Giovanni’s Room seems to be immediate from page 1 to 169.There isn’t a dull moment and each page is crucial to the story.

His writing seems to be poetry in motion, his descriptions relate what’s happening to everyday experiences in life like when he writes, “Confusion is a luxury which only the very, very, young can possibly afford and you are not young anymore.”

There are also incredible sentences that say so much like, “For I understood, at the bottom of my heart, that we had never talked, that now we never would,” unpacked what was a father and son relationship filled with missed opportunities to bond with each other.

The narrator of the story is David and the reader gets the idea that he is very self-aware “For I am- or I was- one of those people who pride themselves on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through.” This line lays the groundwork showing how all his relationships – his father, Hella, and Giovanni are built on lies and deceit.

There are only a handful of characters yet the story fills full of people. Maybe it’s the way he describes the vibrant life of Paris. His description furthers my take that in order to produce moving art an author must have some personal insight or take on the situation. In this case, James Baldwin lived in Paris and was openly gay.

I have only read one other work of James Baldwin, Go Tell It To The Mountain, a collection of short stories but both seem to show his craftsmanship to develop characters that are full – David is not quite good or bad.

I would recommend this book for any one wanting to learn more on writing craft. If there was any aspect of James Baldwin writing style that I would emulate it would be his ability to write about real issues in a way that leaves the reader changed by the end of his books. Human suffering does not discriminate its pain, although the doses hit us all at different times.

Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) received his MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from SUNY Stony Brook. He’s eyeing agents to help publish his coming of age story, Christine’s Dream – A Memoir of Love, Loss & Life. He is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment and has been published in TSR: The South Hampton Review. When not writing he runs for the thrill of crossing the finish line. Find more of his work at www.rashaunjallen.com

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