Sunday, December 11, 2011

Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin

Out of the 50 odd books I read this year, only a few will remain with me in memory over the years. This one will be one of such for its brilliance and class. Every thing about this book is mesmerizing ; his style of prose, the narrative, the conversations the sentences and the appropriate omissions and structuring of the book. May be a novel with a gay love theme was disturbing during its publication, about half a century ago, and that shock value is over and one will not gauge the book for that. This short novel about a 30 year old White American , currently living in Paris ( James Baldwin was in Paris during the writing and publication of this book) befriends and later fall in love with an Italian bartender. Its his complex and dangerous relationship,

David, living in Paris on the meagre amount of money sent by his father from USA, befriends Giovanni , a bartender in a gay bar while his girlfriend Halla was away in Spain on a vacation. Struggling for fund and was thrown out of his lodge for payment outstanding, David meets one of his friend Jacques with a dubious reputation ( an old man living alone but likes to keep friendship with young boys), to get some money. The duo later ends up in the Bar run by Guillaume, where he meets Giovanni an Italian bartender. The atmosphere, the absence of his girlfriend and some clever maneuver by his benefactor, the foursome, spends the entire evening and the next morning in company. Giovanni and David, later ended up in 'Giovanni's Room'( claustrophobic, unkempt, dour, and threatening according to David) and happen to spend the evening together in bed. Nowhere to go, David stays back in Giovanni's room and the next couple of months they grow their intimate relationship and affection until the return of his girlfriend. Now torn between the love for his girl and the affection and the relationship with Giovanni, David had to make his choice. David's departure and the lose of his job at Gillaume makes Giovanni restless, takes him back to Jacques. The tale gets worst after the death of Gillaume by the hand of Giovanni , who was later arrested and sentenced to death. Tormented with guilt, David break away from Hella follows Giovanni through the trial and the place of his final sentence. We leave David in despair, in South France, at the town of the sentence, narrating the tale in "the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life".
David was not gay, except for an early days recollection of an experience with his classmate during school days. He had a steady relationship with his American girlfriend, until her travel to Spain on contemplating their marriage and future. His encounter with Giovanni was accidental and the sexual relationship thence has not been a result of his hidden desire. Even after the return of his girlfriend, he continued his normal living with his girlfriend. It wasn't the sexual desire that attracted him to Giovanni. It is something beyond that and David fails to express or really understand the reasons. He find himself responsible for all that has happened to Giovanni and wanted to redeem himself from the guilt.

A theme on gay love affair and extremely sensual in nature, James Baldwin does a phenomenal job of balancing his writing with extreme control. For me this reading was more rewarded as compared to Go Tell it on the Mountains. There seems to be the perfect coordination between the length of the book, the sentences, the paragraphs and conversations. Some of the paragraphs were so brilliant and I had to read them again and again. At no point, this was vulgar or repulsive ( most of the sex writing what I read of late are so bad), and the emotional side of the relationship is dealt with sublime quality by this marvellous writer. Great book.
Giovanni's Room ( 1956 )

James Baldwin

Penguin Modern Classics

159 Pages
Wiki Entry, Things mean a lot

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