After two months of mostly reading non-fiction, I picked up Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin at the end of February. I wanted to read this book for a long time and Feb being Black History Month, I wanted to read something by a black author. I am so glad I picked this book as it is now one of my all-time favorite reads and the best read of 2019 so far. This book was amazing and I have now found a new favorite author.
It is a very short book, around 200 pages in length but since it is a classic, the prose is rich and it took me more than a week to read it. The book is about David who is a white American (it is not clear if he is gay or bisexual) who happens to meet a young beautiful Italian boy “Giovanni”, while in Paris. When he meets Giovanni, David’s girlfriend Hella is in Spain and he is all alone in the most romantic city – Paris. Giovanni is attracted to David and David also falls in love with Giovanni. The book is all about David coming to terms about loving another man, which was considered illegal in those days. To complicate things, Hella comes back into David’s life and wants to marry him. The dilemma that David faces is whether to spend his life with a person he loves or to spend it with a woman so that he can have kids and lead a “normal” life that one is supposed to lead, according to the society. Should one listen to his heart or his brain? The same dilemma that we all face in our lives at some point.
David moves in with Giovanni into his room for few months when Hella is in Spain. David both seems to adore and hate Giovanni’s room at the same time, just like his love and hate relationship with Giovanni. He hates Giovanni for making him realize that he can fall in love with a man. The writing just draws you in. It is one of the most well written novels I have ever read. I wish I could write like the author. His descriptions of Paris so beautifully match with the mood and tone of the novel. There were plenty of dialogues in French scattered throughout the book. Google Translate helped me understand those.
The love story was heartbreaking and shows how horrible it was for lgbtq people(here it’s gay and bisexual characters) when it was illegal to be in love with a person of the same sex. I am so happy that we have now given them the rights they deserved for a long time and they can freely express love without trying to suppress it for the sake of society and it’s norms. The book also talks about stereotypes in society and how people try to not deviate from stereotypes. A man is supposed to work hard and not be a girl by sitting at home. A woman is supposed to want a man, whether she really needs a man or not. Hella is an independent woman who thinks she needs a man to take care of her. David thinks he needs to have a family, like every other man in the world. He doesn’t see a future with Giovanni, who is a man.
My only problem was with some passages where Giovanni acts like a misogynist. Not sure if it is the character or the author saying nasty things about women.
This is the first book by a black author about white men that I have ever read. This is definitely the most tragic love story I have read after The Great Gatsby. The story was as sad and as amazing as TGG. The story alternates between the present and the past, revealing what happened to Giovanni gradually as the book progresses. I now want to read more books from this author.
Some of the quotes I liked from the book –
Nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom.
It takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both.
Why is it better to be late than early? People are always saying, we must wait, we must wait. What are they waiting for?
Not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour – and in the oddest place! – for the lack of it.
Maybe everything bad that happens to you makes you weaker, and so you can stand less and less.
You are the one who keeps talking about what I want. But I have only been talking about who I want.
I gave this book 5 stars.
Have you read anything by this author? If not, please grab something soon.