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Paperback Giovanni's Room Book

ISBN: 0345806565

ISBN13: 9780345806567

Giovanni's Room

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Book Overview

Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin's now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

"Nobody can stay in the Garden of Eden": Reflection on Life One Evening

James Baldwin's _Giovanni's Room_ (1956) is a challenging work of literature that explores a summer in the life of an expatriate named David who is living in Paris after World War II. David must come to terms with his own contradictory desires. David's life in Paris in the 1950s--where homosexuality, while not illegal, is stigmatized--affords him a certain amount of space to discover what he wants and what he can accept. His dilemma, on the surface, can be stated simply: he is passionately in love with a young Italian man, Giovanni, yet he is also engaged to Hella, an American woman with whom he can live, on the surface, a "socially acceptable" life. On a deeper level, the novel is a study of the loneliness that comes with an absence of self-acceptance. David shares many characteristics with Ernest Hemingway's young, expatriate anti-hero Jake Barnes in _The Sun Also Rises_. In David, Baldwin has created a character who remains, ostensibly, detached from the world, which lends to his anti-hero a veneer of invincibility and hard assurance. There are a number of passages, especially intimate scenes, described from a mechanical third-person point of view. Giovanni at one point asks David, "Do you know how you feel? Do you feel? What do you feel?" to which David replies, "I feel nothing now, nothing." David's inability or unwillingness to be honest about his feelings, however, undermines his relationships with others and his sense of self, and ultimately leaves him profoundly alone. The novel suggests, more hopefully, that the loss of innocence, if accepted, can be the beginning of a journey that leads to knowledge. The novel takes place as a flashback over the course of one evening in a rented house in the south of France before David will take a train back to Paris the next morning. Drinking by himself in the large, empty house and looking at a window, David recalls this statement from an acquaintance named Jacques: "Nobody can stay in the Garden of Eden." This is an idea which frames the novel and perhaps offers David one way to understand his life. A few final notes: The final paragraph of the novel is incredible, suggesting how actions, despite our most earnest hopes when we have erred, stay with us. All of the descriptions of Giovanni's room are artistic and reflect David's psychology. The novel portrays a cruel side of Paris (a characteristic, I think, which all large cities share to some degree), where lives on the margins are often bought and sold, and where there can be a calculated indifference to suffering. This is a riveting work of literature that has many levels of meaning.

A fictional masterpiece!

This is without a doubt one of the best literary works I have ever read! "Giovanni's Room" is all about a young American expatriate named David who finds himself torn between his fiancee Hella and an Italian bartender named Giovanni. They carry on a love affair but when Hella returns from a trip in Spain, everything starts spiraling out of control in a whirlwind of powerful and excruciating emotion. James Baldwin does an excellent job of presenting this passionate yet painful story in the form of a narrative. The character development is superb, so much so that one believes the characters really do exist. This is a poignant and compelling story that will definitely leave an impression on you. Reading this novel, one really experiences the pleasure, the pain, the loneliness and the suffering these characters experience and endure. This is a powerful work of literary art that gives the readers insight into the emotions that come with being in love and the struggle to find one's identity amidst confusion and self-loathing. The story takes place in 1950's Paris and you'll really feel like you're there as James Baldwin's writing is so descriptive you'll be able to see all the little nuances and minute details. "Giovanni's Room" is a solid testament to James Baldwin's remarkable talent and profound insight. This story would make an excellent addition to any library! Also a great place to start if you're just discovering the genius of James Baldwin. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

A visit to the wine cellar for a vintage wine

Now and then it is healthy and rewarding AND enlightening to revisit some of the books in our libraries that are time-tested, durable pinnacles of literature. Such is the case of opening the cover of James Baldwin's inimitable, cherished novel GIOVANNI'S ROOM. Baldwin died in Paris in 1987 after gifting us with great novels and strong social commmentary. It is only fitting to return to the Paris of this wonderfully rich novel when the need to reflect on how writers of stature had the courage to begin the genre of novels dealing with same sex relationships in a manner of pure literature. GIOVANNI'S ROOM is a fluid, nonlinear exploration of alienation: the narrator is living in Paris (having escaped the US with the smilingly shallow American image descried by Parisians), heads toward a "comfortably normal courtship/engagement" with a very normal fellow American girl also living in Paris/Spain, and quite by accident encounters his repressed sexual self when he meets Giovanni, an expatriated Italian. The subcultures Baldwin details are palpably present on every page - many characters seem like enemies until their roles in the journey of these two men unfold and clarify. The title of the book is well chosen: Giovanni's room which he shares with David our narrator is claustrophobic, unkempt, dour, and threatening - an apt description of the mental environment this stumbling act of finding a new type of love creates. Baldwin lets us know from the start that we are entering a doomed affair of the heart and it is this atmospheric, eloquently written memoir that adds to the sense of the inevitable isolation that makes this a great novel.Enough cannot be said about the beauty of Baldwin's prose, the richness of his terse description of the city of Paris, his uncanny ability to paint characters that are wholly three-dimensional. This book merits frequent re-visits. It is a rare vintage wine.

Explores universal moral conflicts

Foremost, Giovanni's Room is beautifully written. Baldwin writes incredibly well. It would be a mistake to see this book as singularly about homosexuality (and to either read it, or not, because of that alone). Baldwin explores universal problems using a specific character and context. What's most impressive is the way he describes, and then captures the consequences, of the moral dilemma. Though the context is homosexuality, I think similar conflict happens all too often, especially in relationships. You think you should be one thing or feel one way, and everything in your social, religious, intellectual voice tells you're right - except how you deep down feel. Baldwin has this one line about how hard it is to say "yes" to life. In that passage, I think he refers to how hard it is to reject your conventional self and embrace your deep down feelings. And this conflict could be about anything. Then, too, Baldwin shows how, the stronger you love someone who provokes such internal conflict, the stronger your own self-hatred and hatred for that person. How terrible to most want to hurt the person you most love.

Giovanni's Room Mentions in Our Blog

Giovanni's Room in Remembering James Baldwin
Remembering James Baldwin
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • August 01, 2021

James Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924. Though he died at age 63, he left behind a powerful legacy. His provocative essays introduced fresh ways of thinking about society. His fiction and poetry broke new ground, exploring themes around masculinity, sexuality, race, and class.

Giovanni's Room in The Essential John Irving
The Essential John Irving
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • March 01, 2021

This week we celebrate the birthday of acclaimed American-Canadian author John Irving, born on March 3, 1942. With a career that has spanned five decades, his work is marked by a tension between tradition and nonconformity, reverence and rebellion. Here we highlight five of his essential titles, as well as their screen adaptations.

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