“In a moment, I heard his fall. And at moments like this, I felt that we were merely enduring and committing the longer and lesser and the more perpetual murder”
I have read this book thrice, in a week and I am reading it again, and every time when I close it, I put my head down with a new realization, almost like an epiphany, another myth broken and another reality understood.
‘Giovanni’s Room’, came out in 1956, a time when the world was still grappling with the anxieties of the Second World War, and an ‘American’ was now able to see through the constructed myths of the ‘American Dream’, the reality that lay there, naked, like a stillborn baby. In an essay written by Baldwin himself, called, ‘The discovery of what it means to be an American’, he recalls his anxieties regarding the racial oppression in America, his own fear and distrust of actually being able to survive it, in the land supposed to provide you the means to reinvent your identity, or rather, create a new one, completely independent of your past, and dealt with the reality of being an American, as perceived from outside. He had confessed in an interview in 1980, that the book is not so much about homosexuality, as it is about the outcome, the human tragic outcome of some eternal, yet abstract, fear eventually translating into an eternal inability to love anyone, anything.
The story of the novel is not so much compelling, as is the graph of character development. Baldwin has given such deep insights into each and every character of the story, which has established as one among the best prose stylist of the world, even contemporarily and it is not an exaggeration on my part. As a student of literature and a literary critic in making, I try my best to find points for criticism in every piece of art that I come across, and more often than not, I am able to. But Giovanni’s Room is one such work, which I have not been able to critique, even after having read it thrice. In the hindsight, I am actually happy about it.
David, an American, tired of the life he’s living right now, perhaps as an attempt to escape the mundane of his reality as well as the reality and the past altogether, travels to Paris and settles there, leaving his father alone, and his girlfriend Hella, traveling in Spain. In Paris, he meets Giovanni, the one that, in a way, reminds him, or more like, reconnect him, to the part of his identity that he left behind in America, buried in sheets, to the David he actually is, the one that he’s afraid of accepting. Something takes birth inside David after meeting Giovanni, and as he begins to explore what that something is, Giovanni’s life descends to doom and inevitability.
“Tell me, he said, “What is this thing about time? Why is it better to be late than early? People are always saying, we must wait, we must wait. What are they waiting for?”
“Well […] I guess people wait in order to make sure of what they feel.”
“And when you have waited—has it made you sure?”
Has it made you sure, even after you’ve waited, is the question, perhaps, that Baldwin attempts to answer, through all the antithetical questions, answers, and arguments that the characters pose to themselves, as well as to others? With extreme erudition, Baldwin uses the time and space of 1950s Paris, and employs the abstractions and the implications of them, to develop his characters. My mind is yet to take all in, in the entirety of it.
The beginning is dark, yet settled, leading to a middle that is full of conflicts, which eventually get resolved in the end, with again, a dark, but settled and peaceful tone. Although, having said that, there is always, almost on every page, an element of uncertainty present, right until the brutally unexpected end. That element of uncertainty is what that makes this book so unique. David, once when he was sure of his feelings, chose to avoid them, and ever since then, is unsure of what he feels, whether a hatred or love or obligation, for both Giovanni and Hella. The fear that he had, towards who he really is, ultimately did transcend into the inability to love anyone, but it is too late a realization that happens in the life of David. Escapism isn’t always the grace that saves you. One day, truth does show upon, not because you lied, simply because you chose to ignore it. What becomes of David, and even Hella, for that matter, is what that happens every day around us.
Baldwin creates the world inside of Giovanni’s room, a world full of realities that we somehow are too afraid to inhabit, and at times, facing them in the present, is even more difficult than bearing the burden later on, or so it seems. Read the book to find out the answer.
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|Awards if any:||Ranked no. 2 on the list of 100 best LGBT novels compiled by ‘The Publishing Triangle’ in 1999.|
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