During the 50's, Americans were on top. Especially white people. The protagonist, David, is good looking and blond. Gorgeous dark Italian Giovanni has met his match. The entire affair could thrive in Giovanni's room but no further than that.
Hella, David's girlfriend is traveling alone in Spain for most of the book. She is a rare American woman for that time..
Baldwin doesn't play around with stereotypical people or emotions. They are very real.
I gave the read 4 stars because I had to stretch my imagination some to understand how Giovanni ended up in Paris in the circumstance he found himself after a destroyed idyllic life in a small town in Italy. His evolved sexuality comes off more as a renunciation of life rather than his true self. Given that in those years Homosexuality was treated as a mental condition as well as a crime, I could forgive this, I suppose I need to give it a 5 star rating.
Gripping. Heartbreaking. The narrator is interesting and complex, but not always likable.
Celebrate gay pride; look at how far we’ve come! Baldwin gives heart-breaking insight to a bisexual man’s inner turmoil in an oppressive earlier era with profound lyrical writing. In addition to the book, the audiobook is available via Hoopla.
11/12 - The sight of drag queens in full drag is as grotesque as monkeys eating their own poo? I think David might be projecting some of his own self-hatred onto these undeserving drag queens. I would suggest he needs to see a therapist about his latent anger, but I don't think a therapist would have been of much help in 1956. They would probably try to pull a 'Clockwork Orange' on him, and he'd end worse than ever. To be continued...
17/12 - I was surprised to learn France was still practicing execution by guillotine during the 60s, when Giovanni's Room was set. I think the main reason I kept reading this, past the point where I would normally have quit due to a loss of interest, was because it was just so short and the language was normal (and therefore easy to read, not counting all the untranslated French that I couldn't be bothered looking up), the secondary reason was that I did want to know exactly what Guillame had done to earn the guillotine.
After the first 70 pages, or so, I did find this less than riveting - I couldn't garner much sympathy for David, stringing both Hella and Giovanni along because he can't make up his mind about what/who he really wants, and I found Giovanni's clinginess pathetic. I can't stand people who use emotional blackmail to force people/significant others into staying with them, threatening to hurt or kill themselves if they try to leave. That's not love, that's emotional abuse, and that's what Giovanni was threatening would happen if David left him. While none of that absolves David's behaviour, it does go some way toward explaining it.
Written when I was 4 years old and still relevant and poignant today. One day, perhaps not in my lifetime, people won't have any need to lie to themselves about who they really are. Good read, but sad story.
This story is incredibly well-structured. Knowing the end immediately casts a pall on the entire story; regret, certainly, and more than that, cruelty. The narrator immediately becomes a coward, Guillaume a predator and Jacques a selfish lout. However, Baldwin never falls into the trap of stereotypes; David's palpable guilt, Jacques' sudden generosity as he follows Giovanni to the grave, all make the characters complex. Most complex, of course, is Giovanni himself, caught in his terrible secret and pain, aching to be loved as he is and not simply for his beauty.
The room as a backdrop to all this confusion is in itself a character: small, dingy, oppressive, secret yet full of desperate hope and potential as Giovanni tries to turn it into a haven of peace and light.
Marvelous and heart-wrenching.
A beautiful, sad, intense book. This is the first book I've read of Baldwin's... now I want to read more!
I saw a Youtube interview from the 50s where Baldwin explained that he likes words and people. It shows!
An amazing portrayal of a deep inner struggle, definitely will be reading more of his books in the future.
Is on the list of 1001 books to read before you die.
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