Have you ever been in love with someone? If you have, you’d agree that it was not your choice, falling in love was not a conscious decision that you made. For some reason, you were attracted to this individual and there’s nothing you could do about this feeling.
This is exactly the central theme of the novel Giovanni’s Room. Giovanni’s Room is a novel by James Baldwin and it was published in 1956.
In the novel, our protagonist is a young man from the United States. His name is David. The book sheds light on the struggle that David goes through to get in touch with his sexual identity.
A major portion of this novel takes place in France as David decides that he needed some change in his life and moves to Paris. During his stay in Paris, David tries to get in touch with an old acquaintance of his, a man named Jacques.
Jacques was this wealthy American businessman probably in his forties and he was gay. Jacques used to financially support David and they used to go to bars together to have drinks.
On one such occasion, David comes across this good-looking Italian bartender named Giovanni. And instantly both David and Giovanni were drawn to each other. From that day, their love affair began.
The reason why I decided to read this novel is that I was fascinated by the author of the novel, James Baldwin. Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet.
He’s considered one the greatest writers of the 20th century.
Through his literary work, Baldwin tackled the issues of racial inequality, class distinction in western society, and homosexuality.
Some of the best-sellers by James Baldwin other than Giovanni’s room include The Fire Next Time, Notes of a Native Son, Go Tell it On the Mountain, and Another Country.
Giovanni’s Room was Baldwin’s second novel and it was a controversial one as it talked about homosexuality, a topic that was very taboo in the 1950s.
Another reason for this book’s controversy is the fact that all the characters of this novel were white and at the time many believed that black writers should only stick to their niche .i.e, they should only write about black people and the black community.
But the risk that Baldwin took in publishing this novel paid off. This was a massive success when it got released in 1956.
Giovanni’s Room has been written in a very interesting manner as the narrative of this story goes back and forth in time. Right at the beginning of the novel, it reveals what happens to the main characters in the end.
I find this style of writing to be pretty engaging because right at the beginning of the novel, Baldwin was able to create a sense of curiosity in the reader.
Throughout this novel, it could be noticed that David struggles to find out who he is. And a lot of this struggle comes from the conflict that he’s facing with his sexuality.
Now this question of “Who am I?” is something that I believe, we could all relate to. Our struggles might not be the same as David’s, but in one way or another, we’re all seeking an answer to this question.
Something that makes reading this novel a bit challenging is that there is a lot of French used in this novel. But it makes sense. The story takes place in Paris and David is interacting with Parisians. So the usage of French in this novel is reasonable.
Baldwin’s quality of narration is just remarkable. The novel shares a picturesque view of Paris in the 1950s. As David walks through the streets of Paris, he also takes the reader along with him through these streets.
Now should you read Giovanni’s Room? Well, I’d say yes. It’s a short novel and is only around 140 pages. And this novel is also of great importance and it’s one of the first books in American literature that tackles the issue of homosexuality.