Title: Giovanni’s Room
Author: James Baldwin
Publication: Dial Press 1956
Rating: 5 stars
So…maybe it was my last post about reading Breathing Lessons in one day or maybe it was my roommate’s incredulous look when I said I’d do it, but I started and finished Giovanni’s Room last night. The whole 164pages, which really isn’t all that much, is awesome!
It’s rare to find a book that so perfectly combines a powerful, compelling story and beautiful prose. James Baldwin blew me away with this tale of a young American man in 1950s Paris struggling to find his place in the world. Though it might sound trite–a young man’s journey of self discovery–it is a unique story. It is safe to say that Giovanni’s Room was my introduction to “queer fiction,” as my roommate calls it.
Of course, I’ve read tons of books with homoerotic undertones and overtones (Nathaniel West and Hemingway, not to name names), but never a book explicitly about a relationship between two men. I say “relationship” and not “love affair” because the protagonist has a tragically impossible time fusing love with sex.
He has his first sexual encounter with a boy while still very young and then shortly after he is engaged to woman. His fiance takes a trip abroad and leaves him to his own devices in Paris, which eventually lead him to Giovanni. Due in part to poverty, he begins living in Giovanni’s Room. Their few months of time together is anything but blissful young love. Instead it is riddled with shame, anger, uncertainty, and even hatred. The protagonist cannot seem to figure out how to rectify the 1950s social constructions of manhood with homosexuality.
I don’t want to give the story away, so I will stop here. Just know that it is an incredible tale that is so brilliantly written that I wanted to open it right back up to page 1 after I finished. I’d say it’s on par with A Death in the Family and Gone with the Wind.
UPDATE*** Huffington Post just tweeted the 7 greatest gay couples in literature. I think that Giovanni’s Room should have made the list!