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Giovanni's Room (1956)

de James Baldwin

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"Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality."--Page 4 of cover.

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Mostrando 1-5 de 121 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
David is desperately trying to find himself in the years following the Second World War. As a young American man who is confused about so many things—his professional future, a strained relationship with his father, his sexual orientation—he has escaped to Paris where he meets Hella, another ex-pat from the United States. David proposes to Hella despite not really loving her; she responds by leaving for Spain to think things over. In her absence, David makes the acquaintance of Giovanni, a young Italian man working in a prominent gay bar. The two men strike up a friendship and, soon enough, they become lovers, although David’s confusion over his identity prevents him from fully committing to the relationship. As he has no other financial means, David moves into Giovanni’s small one-room apartment, where he allows himself to explore his true feelings and attitudes for the first time. However, when Hella returns from Spain to accept his marriage proposal, David leaves Giovanni in a cruel and heartbreaking way, which sets the latter on a destructive path that ultimately leads him to commit a tragic act. The story ends with David being a lot sadder but not any wiser, while Giovanni awaits his final fate.

In Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin has crafted a taut, masterful examination of the myriad pitfalls that befall someone on their journey to personal enlightenment. The author was justly celebrated for developing themes of race, class, and sexual orientation in his writing and this book stands out for its focus on the dilemmas and introspections of an all-white cast of characters. That becomes a powerful stylistic choice that allows the story to concentrate on David’s struggle to come to grips with his own definition of masculinity and the shame that drives his daily behaviors without conflating those subjects with issues of racial identity. In a novel written about seven decades ago, I can only imagine that these were extremely controversial topics that were neither vogue nor comfortable to confront. The tale is told from David’s first-person perspective, in both flashbacks and the present tense, which is frequently the choice of a writer who wants to present the reader with an unreliable narrator. And, to be sure, David is a very unreliable narrator, if only because he knows—or is willing to accept—so little about himself. The gritty realism and melancholy tone of Giovanni’s Room make it a difficult novel to read at times, but it is rightly considered a classic and one that has definitely stood the test of time. ( )
  browner56 | Dec 3, 2023 |
The title is a bit of a mystery. Why room? What's so important about a room? Perhaps it indicates something personal and potentially private. You don't normally see someone's room unless they invite you in. In some sense it's where we really learn about a person. Do they throw things around or keep it clean and tidy. What do they choose to keep there? Books? Pictures? Pets? Favorite chairs? The choices seem to fill in a picture of who this person really is. That's normally the case but here I think of the room as misdirection. It focuses us on something the main character/narrator is afraid to face, being attracted physically to another man. That's the real story here. How will he deal with that new learning about himself. The room is just the setting for the action.

Baldwin has a very light style. He mixes the narrator's inner thoughts with lots of dialogue. This keeps the plot moving along. Time is obscured but it seems to pass. The story seems to encapsulate a few brief months or possibly weeks, not clear. Sensuality permeates everything but there is minimal description of any sexual act. We learn of a kiss, touching a breast, being together next morning, all indicating just the surface of the action. The details are left to your imagination. Many sentences contain immediate contradictions, love and hate, fear and confidence, far and near, intimate and distant. Since this is my first exposure to Baldwin I'm not sure if this is a normal part of his style or specific to this book. In any case it works perfectly to enhance the sense of internal questioning, is this this or is this that? I feel both so is it me or is it what I'm faced with?

The net result is that we feel what the narrator is going through. We've been there. Life is not black and white. There's tons of grey to be resolved. It's clear that the narrator is cross pressured. He's in Paris and the woman he has asked to marry him has gone off to Spain to think about it. What will happen next? Where will his life go from here? Father says come home, no more money for you. He can't pay his rent so the hotel is asking him to leave. He reaches out to an older gay man who may be able to give him a loan until his father changes his mind. They go to a bar where the story really gets into gear. He is immediately attracted to a young man waiting tables. The attraction is reciprocal and the narrator believes everyone can see the pull/electricity between the two. He knows he shouldn't accept Giovanni's invitation to go back to his room for a drink.

This is also the point where the dated nature of the story mars the reading of it. This was written in the 1950s, at this point almost seventy years ago. The world has changed. While there are still taboos, marginalization, laws in some countries, that punish sex between men, it is much more acceptable today than it was in the fifties. But we do get the idea, the narrator is very concerned about what he might be getting in to. He sees the issue but he sees no better way out of his current problems with lack of funds and place to live. Maybe this is just a way out of his predicament and not what he's afraid it might turn in to. Giovanni is a nice guy why turn down his sincere offer. It's not sexual yet, and may never be.

The sexual tension is always there and so is another aspect, secrecy. The narrator does not tell his father about his fiancé. Nor does he tell his fiancé about Giovanni. He tells no one about his feelings for Giovanni and later does not tell Giovanni about his feelings having changed and he no longer feels the love he once felt for Giovanni. There's a pattern here. Both Giovanni and his fiancé, Hela, tell him "you never tell me." His relationship with Hela seems somewhat questionable as well. They both seem to some degree comfortable with each having relations with others. You might call this openness but it feels more like holding each at arm's length. The narrator tries to convince himself he's really heterosexual seeking out a woman, almost any woman.

Another piece of the puzzle is the relationship between older, usually wealthy men, and the young men in the bar scene. Each is using the other but money always seems to be flowing from the older to the younger. Nothing seems permanent. Much seems transactional. We never learn what is going on but the sexual nature is always what is assumed at the core of what was happening.

Eventually Hela returns from Spain resolving to go ahead with marrying the narrator. He meets Hela's train and never even tells Giovanni where he's gone nor why he's not coming home. He leaves Giovanni who cannot accept the change. But they're still all in Paris so eventually Hela meets Giovanni and learns more about where the narrator was living while she was off in Spain. The plot thickens. The man who hired Giovanni to wait tables fires him accusing him of theft. Giovanni winds up murdering the bar owner, is apprehended and condemned to death. Hela gets more explanation of her fiancé's history with Giovanni and his having kept that from her. The narrator then loses both Giovanni and his fiancé.

No pretty ending here. Worth the read. ( )
  Ed_Schneider | Oct 30, 2023 |
Although I felt deeply for David at the end, I had a very hard time getting through this book. Giovanni's self-destructive behavior was hard for me to accept; I kept wanted him to just get it together and make some healthy choices. Not too sympathetic of me, I know. ( )
  nogomu | Oct 19, 2023 |
i need to clear my schedule for a year to recover ( )
  milanagt | Sep 27, 2023 |
"Perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced. I think now that if I had any intimation that the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight, I would have stayed at home." ( )
  cbwalsh | Sep 13, 2023 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 121 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
what draws lovers of the book to its story of betrayal and the possibility of redemption through truth and, ultimately, to the question of the body as home, is the vision of Baldwin stumbling through it, sure-footed and alone, walking toward the idea that love may come attached with different ideas of what it should look like, feel like, but in the end, it’s what you do with its responsibilities that renders you genderless — and human.
adicionado por danielx | editarNew York Times, Hilton Als (May 5, 2019)
adicionado por gsc55 | editarHearts on Fire, Delta (May 11, 2013)

» Adicionar outros autores (20 possíveis)

Nome do autorFunçãoTipo de autorObra?Status
Baldwin, Jamesautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Butler, DanNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Phillips, CarylIntroduçãoautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Prinsen, G.A.Tradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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"Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality."--Page 4 of cover.

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