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Geography Of The Heart
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Geography Of The Heart

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  307 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
In this poignant memoir, the author interweaves two fascinating stories: his own upbringing as the youngest of nine children of a Kentucky whiskey maker and that of his lover Larry Rose, the only child of German Jews, survivors of the Holocaust. With grace and affectionate humor, he follows their relationship from their first meeting through Larry's death. "I'm so lucky, " ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published June 1st 1997 by Scribner (first published May 1st 1996)
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Fun Home by Alison BechdelThe Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick BurdThe Teahouse Fire by Ellis AveryStone Butch Blues by Leslie FeinbergAffinity by Sarah Waters
Stonewall Book Award Winners
8th out of 86 books — 20 voters
And the Band Played On by Randy ShiltsBorrowed Time by Paul MonetteThe Normal Heart by Larry KramerHeaven's Coast by Mark DotyChronicle of a Plague, Revisited by Andrew Holleran
Living with HIV and AIDS
29th out of 73 books — 8 voters

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Community Reviews

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Ije the Devourer of Books
A beautiful and reflective memoir which recalls the gentle love of two men for each other, tragically brought to an end by AIDS.

Fenton Johnson's memoir recalls his relationship with the high school teacher Larry Rose who was the only child of German-Jewish refugees from the holocaust.

The memoir is gentle. Some AIDS memoirs are prophetic in the way they tell the story of the AIDS crisis (Paul Monette's Borrowed Time), others recall the political activism and wider political issues of the time (Se
Joanna Marple
Nov 03, 2013 Joanna Marple rated it it was amazing
This exquisite memoir, read for class, brought me a whole new insight into what it means to be lucky!

Two very dissimilar men meet in San Francisco and fall in love. The relationship lasts three years, the third year during which the author cares for his lover as he dies of AIDS, on their third and final trip to Paris in 1990. Fenton Johnson's poignant memoir delves eep to explore the depths of a relationship that didn't stand much chance when it began. Rose, HIV+ was asymptomatic when he met Fen
Feb 20, 2010 Jennifer rated it really liked it
I was up early this morning, so decided to that I should find a reason to sit in the sunrooom and cry for two hours.

Thankfully, I had yet to return this book, borrowed from my neighbor a year ago.

You know from the first page that this is the author's memoir on losing his partner to AIDS. And while I wasn't entirely wrapped up in the author's writing, I still couldn't resist being utterly moved by his story.

It's a book truly about love - more brutally honest and eternally hopeful than any harl
James Myers
Sep 18, 2016 James Myers rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this story. It's an evocative and poignant tale of two lovers at the height of the AIDS epidemic, one of whom began the relationship with HIV. Fenton Johnson is a great story teller, who weaves his Kentucky childhood well with his partner's European Jewish roots, and the budding love of these two men of disparate cultures. I especially enjoyed the way that Fenton went about to honor Larry's life after his death, particularly his visit to Larry's former students. A beautiful but ...more
Sep 12, 2015 Jenny rated it it was amazing
This is a remarkable, wrenching memoir. Johnson's prose is controlled, unflinching, and precise and his words convey real wisdom. He painstakingly lays out the anatomy of his love relationship with an HIV positive partner and unfolds how a reserved, guarded man reluctantly fell in love with a passionate, effusive man whose doors remained wide open. The narration of his partner's descent into AIDS was fully dimensional. This relationship and the AIDS epidemic as he experienced it in the '80s was ...more
Desilu Anne Nair
Nov 10, 2015 Desilu Anne Nair rated it it was amazing
This sad and poignant memoir by Fenton Johnson is about his love affair with Larry Rose, his HIV-positive partner who later died of AIDS. But more than just focusing on Larry's death, the writer chose to write about what true love means to him - in happiness and in times of grief (which also brings renewal and hope, he says). Through Larry's last few months, Fenton stayed by his side through the many downs and few moments of happiness together, never straying but also tormented by the impending ...more
Jul 08, 2015 Kathy rated it it was amazing
[O]pportunities for romance don't present themselves often to writers, introverted curmudgeons who work at home. More to the point, everywhere I turned I encountered the inexorable law of desire: those whom I wanted didn't want me; those who wanted me I didn't want.

My seventh grade began with Sister Marie Therese announcing that she would not teach math or science. These were godless subjects, she said, in which we'd be amply indoctrinated later on. She would give over those precious ho
Suk Harn Wong
Jul 25, 2015 Suk Harn Wong rated it liked it
Love doesn't measure itself by the calendar (does a mother love her child less because he is young?)

The enormous burdens of love, its two-edged sword, how large and daunting the responsibility of knowing when to cling and when to let go.

Life is about risk. What should man do but dare?

To love is to willingly lower our defences, a terrifying prospect in any time and place but especially so at a time and in a place where we perceive ourselves as having so much to defend ourselves against.

It's bette
Dawn Serra
Aug 30, 2014 Dawn Serra rated it it was amazing
Shelves: relationships
The single most powerful look at love, pain, loss, grief, and human connection that I have ever read.

Fenton Johnson slowly unravels his own journey from that of a man full of fear and resistance to love towards a man completely open to the most intimate, tender love as his lover faced (and succumbed) to death.

Gently revealing his family history and the history of his lover as we journey with Johnson towards an inevitable and shattering end, this love story is the most exquisite and touching acco
Jan 31, 2015 Rj rated it really liked it
However on the reading front I just finished Fenton Johnson's Geography of the Heart (New York: Washington Square Press, 1996). A memoir of his time with his partner Larry Rose it tells of the love story between a sero-discordant couple. In the course of the memoir Rose died of complications from AIDS and Johnson uses the book as a means of coping with his love for Rose and the ensuing loss. What makes the story special is the diverse backgrounds of Rose (Rose was the only child of German-Jewish ...more
Mar 13, 2013 Debbe rated it really liked it
My husband and I tried to read this memoir aloud, together. This book didn't lend itself well to that. The beginning felt slow, reading together, so that's why it lost the fifth star. If I'd started it out alone, it may have gotten that fifth star.

I read the last half on my own. It was beautiful! This gay couple of the late 1980's, one dying of AIDS and one HIV negative, is not gut wrenchingly sad, as you might fear. It is a story of growth and love, in so many ways and for so many people. This
Sep 26, 2013 Leigh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent, easy-to-follow audiobook, read by the author which is always a big plus, esp for such a wrenching memoir as this is. It would be an interesting love story at any rate since the 2 men's backgrounds are so different. So are their lifestyles -- messy vs neat, for starters. But those are the easy parts. Falling in love with a man who has AIDS 3 yrs before that man is to die seems like an "act" of great courage. Getting into a relationship which you know is going to end all too soon wit ...more
Feb 26, 2008 Ruth rated it liked it
This book is a memoir by a guy whose partner dies of AIDS, but also it's about loss in general. The most interesting thing is the way the author talks about how notices that guys who have AIDS carefully avoid any reference to the future or long-range plans, so you kind of know they are sick before you really know. And the way this grief is different than other kinds of grief because afterwards when he starts dating again he keeps on meeting more people who are sick in the same way and has to dec ...more
Mabel Tan
Jul 15, 2015 Mabel Tan rated it really liked it
Such a beautiful read. Heartfelt heart warming and heart breaking. It demonstrates and set an example for the courage to love, to be in love and to move on from love.
John Treat
Dec 31, 2014 John Treat rated it it was amazing
As good a memoir of those years as we have. Better, perhaps, than Paul Monette's excellent work. What loss.
Melissa Porter
Jul 08, 2012 Melissa Porter rated it it was amazing
A beautiful story about the opposing and complementary forces of love and loss, Fenton's memoir centers around the life of his soulmate, who died of AIDS. He argues that life is more sphere-like, rather than end-to-end, because of the memories we keep. He implores us to embrace love where it finds us, no matter its form, and to see that "in grief there is renewal, of love and so of life." Thanks to a recent "books about love" piece on NPR where this was featured, I'm sure I'll find myself re-rea ...more
Jan 10, 2009 Rhi rated it liked it
But now I know in my heart what before I understood only in my head: we don't fall in love for reasons.

This is one of those books that somehow manages to be uplifting and depressing at the same time, along the same lines as "The Year of Magical Thinking"

The Year of Magical Thinking
Forest Tong
Dec 29, 2015 Forest Tong rated it liked it
A love story of the narrator's lover's death from AIDS. Although I was moved by the love and grief, I found the narration somewhat flat and uninspiring.
Premal Vora
Jun 21, 2012 Premal Vora rated it it was ok
Author and proponents of this book are confused between "love" and "sex". What Fenton and Larry had between them was sexual attraction. There is hardly an episode involving Fenton and Larry that I can point to and say, "Now this is what I call love." Instead, I felt inspired by the story of Larry's parents. What they went through while hiding from the Nazis built strength of character and love that lasts decades.

There are many other books worth spending time on -- pass on this one.
Aug 17, 2012 Emily rated it liked it
Compelling so far, except for his tendency to wrap things up for you (repeat scenes and offer meaning) at the end of chapters. But great, soulful (and not in a Kenny G sort of way) writing, that is true, and deceptively simple.

A beautiful remembrance of a partnership. The tendency to tell the lesson continues throughout. A strong-willed editor could easily have remedied this. But still very nice and worth reading, especially if you need any reminding about death. (I need a lot)
Oct 05, 2012 Heidi rated it really liked it
Wonderful. About resisting and submitting to love, about grief, about the intricacies of families, of being a gay man in California in the 1980s, and just a fantastic memoir. Also makes me want to go to Paris - love the Francophile bits! Favorite quote: "I just want to sit here and be quiet with you." (a sort of definition of love and what's enough). The interplay of a Catholic and Jewish family also adds wonderful texture and richness.
Jul 20, 2012 Julie rated it really liked it
This is a touching, heartfelt memoir of love and loss. Fenton Johnson's writing style is light and real, and he uses words nimbly. I loved reading him. What I loved most was the honesty in his writing; in places where he could have soft-pedaled his emotions or reactions to appear heroic, he was honest and straightforward (and heroic.) If he doesn't know himself, he sure fooled me.
Caitlin Harpst
Apr 20, 2012 Caitlin Harpst rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This was an amazing book. A truly heartwarming story that gives a great understanding of how true love works. At least for some people, I highly recommend this to anyone in a relationship, not because it will teach you how to have a better one but because you will be shocked at how much you learn about your own relationship and how you love.
Robin Tuthill
Feb 16, 2013 Robin Tuthill rated it it was amazing
One of the most beautiful, insightful, lyrical books I've ever read. Author Fenton Johnson writes of lessons learned from love and loss with uncommon wisdom. For instance, "... love enables us to continue beyond death." Johnson opened his heart and was rewarded with the love of a lifetime, and beyond -- all in three years.
Aug 13, 2012 Lindsey rated it really liked it
This was a nice book. It talked about falling in love and committing to love and what it is like to do that when one of you was about to die. I actually read it a while ago and forgot to enter it here, but I recall that it was not what I expected. A fine memoir.
May 17, 2012 Barb rated it liked it
a heart-felt love story. it isn't all about romance and sex and being swept off your feet. it's about liking, and loving, and regret, and uncertainty, and devotion. it's a beautiful story about two people loving each other regardless of their orientation.
May 15, 2012 Cristin rated it really liked it
Fantastic insights about love and how we grow within it. Wonderful and touching account of a loving relationship and the hardships of living both with and without AIDS/HIV within the gay community as well as in society at large. I loved this book.
Jun 07, 2012 Crystal rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. The love story is so well written and most importantly, honest. The author doesn't try to make himself or his partner appear perfect and I really appreciate that!
Feb 23, 2013 Gretchen rated it it was amazing
A lovely memoir and love story and yes, it is heartbreaking in its joy and sadness. Ultimately, this book is a real celebration of life and how risking one's heart is worth everything.
Oct 31, 2012 Terry rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books of the pre-cocktail AIDS era. Rates up there with Paul Monette's works. It will touch and break your heart but leave you somehow hopeful.
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“Love is like a ripe peach. You take it when and where you find it, there's no point in letting it sit around. If you're lucky to come across it, you'd better enjoy it right then and there.” 0 likes
“To love is to willingly lower our defenses, a terrifying prospect any time and place but especially so at a time and in a place where we perceive ourselves as having so much (HIV; violence; social; cultural; environmental degradation) to defend ourselves against. To love is to give oneself to another, to entrust to someone else a power that all good sense would have us reserve to ourselves. So we give away some part of ourselves, to find that part returned to us tenfold, in ways we could never have predicted and cannot rationally understand. Loaves and fishes. Miracles happen.” 0 likes
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