After some heavy reading and writing on Gender, Nationalism, and Palestinian Literature, I decided to read for pleasure. I headed to the school library and picked up Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and the Diary of Anais Nin. Regrettably, I didn’t get to read the Diary – which has been on my list for a long time, but I did manage to read Giovanni’s Room. This book is the second I have read by Baldwin and coincidentally, the second book he wrote. While I was aware of who he was, I was formally introduced to Baldwin through an ex two years ago. After reading two of his books, I can understand why he admired him so much.
Previously, I read if Beale Street Could Talk and fell in love with his writing style. As I read Giovanni’s room, a very short book, I lost a lot of love for the writing style. I was annoyed by all the commas and complex sentence structures, but I was able to move past the stylings in order to appreciate the content of the text. I admit to knowing nothing about LGBT literature outside of E. Lynne Harris, but I feel confident in saying that Baldwin undoubtedly set the stage and was revolutionary in writing on subject matters that were taboo in the U.S. at the time.
Written in the 1950’s, Giovanni’s Room was primarily about the relationship between two men in Paris, but it’s a far cry from being relegated to a piece of Gay fiction. It details the inner turmoil of coming to grips with ones sexuality alongside themes of finding happiness, coming of age,finding oneself,and tragedy. As I read the book, I felt that my inner struggles were closely akin to David, the narrator/main character of the story.
Although the writing was complex, the book offered many though provoking moments and quotes with my favorite coming from David in the opening pages:
“People can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.”
In the pages before this quote, David describes his decision to marry a woman he was not in love with. By marrying her, he thought that he could provide a sense of stability for himself and/or undue his homosexuality. But as David learned, one cannot hide from what is in our heart and at the end of the day, we must remain true to ourselves. Therefore, we must live life – without restraints, regrets, or worrying about the things we cannot change.
Just like David, I fled America and have found refuge in Europe. Additionally, I’ve had to battle with my own “moorings” so to speak – moving around from place to place, from one relationship to another, one hobby to another, etc. Within these spaces, I have sought to find and in some instances re-define myself. More importantly, I have sought happiness. Undoubtedly, these things have provided moments of happiness, but I realized that attempting to ground my happiness entirely in physical location, people, and objects is not enough and unfulfilling in the long-term.
Giovanni’s Room ends with David’s lover facing death for murder, his fiance finding out the truth about his sexuality, and David asking himself existential questions about life, love, truth, and happiness. There are no real solutions in this book and no complete resolve for all the characters. However, it was thought provoking and ground-breaking nonetheless and I can understand how Baldwin has been elevated in the ranks of American writers.