Friday, July 31, 2009

Giovanni's Room

Let me begin by saying I have never read a book like this before. Once I closed the cover for the final time, I realized this must have been one of the most controversial novels discussed at the 'liberal' cocktail parties of 1956. I am picturing smoke filled rooms, hands lifted to mask the whispers, pseudo-intellectuals pontificating on the issues of race and sexuality.

James Baldwin tells the story of a white, middle class, American ex-pat living in Paris. He (David) falls in lust/love/confusion/denial with Giovanni, an Italian bartender. They live in a world the majority of the population will never know. A world of young boys and wealthy used up queens. And it is a sad world.

David's sexuality is really not the issue. It is his inability to give love and to be loved. He is so concerned with his warped sense of morality, that he cannot see the beauty of any given moment - and his affected personality that borders on amoral.

Giovanni in many ways is his victim. And so is David's fiancee, Hella. They both love this man who is not an active participant in his own life. He watches himself from above with self loathing and repugnance. But his for his part in the lives of others, he does not give one damn.

This is a tragic novel on so many levels. And I am still trying to decide if it was truly well written. Having just returned from Paris, I was truly enjoying the amount of French sprinkled throughout the text, the descriptions of scenes in Paris... This my dears is not for the faint hearted.

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