Baldwin, James, Literary Fiction

Review of Giovanni’s Room

Image result for giovanni's roomWhat was it about?

Giovanni’s Room is told from the perspective of David who recalls the time he was in Paris, away from his fiancée Hella and in a relationship with a barman named Giovanni. At the beginning of the story, we learn that Giovanni has been executed though we do not know his crime. The rest of the book is told in flashback and anecdotally. Hella is in Spain while David has an affair with Giovanni whom he met at a gay bar. David is torn between desire and guilt, not sure whether to continue his relationship with Hella, return to the U.S., or stay with Giovanni. In James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, David struggles to accept his sexuality, make major life decisions, and relate to his father.

What did I think of it?

James Baldwin wrote Giovanni’s Room in 1956, long before gay rights received any serious consideration in the United States. But although the work deals primarily with sexuality, it also touches on family, the woman’s place in society, moral responsibility, and national identity.

This work really reminded me of Sartre’s Nausee and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In all three works the narrators are pretty unpleasant characters with similar personalities, but their relationships and existential crises are so beautifully and hauntingly described. While the story of Giovanni’s Room is not very eventful, the prose is absolutely gorgeous. Giovanni is a very lovable character despite the crime he commits. I look forward to reading more works by James Baldwin.

Favorite Quote

[Giovanni] laughed. “Well, isn’t it true? You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.”

Hurston, Zora Neale, Literary Fiction

Review of Their Eyes Were Watching God

What was it about?

In Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie Crawford sets out in search of love and freedom. A black girl growing up in a plantation shack on Logan Killick’s farm, Janie spends her childhood in the shadow of her grandmother’s dreams. Her grandmother wants her granddaughter to have the life she never had, so she makes Janie marry Logan even though Janie doesn’t love him. Logan has land. But Janie expects more of life. Over the course of three marriages, Janie learns about herself and her desires. She comes face-to-face with the joys and sorrows of life, developing into one of the most compelling protagonists in all of literature.

What did I think of it?

I admit that it is hard to put into words my reaction to this book. I know that Janie is not a character that I will soon forget. She is a strong Black woman, overcoming hardships foisted on her race through slavery and sustained by the Jim Crow laws of pre-Civil Rights America. Hurston’s prose is lyrical, and all the characters (even the most minor ones) have their own distinct personalities. The story about a man’s mule is at once a humorous episode and a commentary on the systematic oppression of Black people. I look forward to reading more of Hurston’s works. Much has already been written about the value of reading diversely. I know that I have neglected works written by and about people of color for far too long on this blog. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is certainly a great place to begin as it is part of the “Black Canon”.

Favorite Quote

“To start off wid, people like dem wastes up too much time puttin’ they mouf on things they don’t know nothin’ about. Now they got to look into me loving Tea Cake and see whether it was done right or not! They don’t know if life is a mess of corn-meal dumplings, and if love is a bed-quilt!”