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Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone
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Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  1,377 ratings  ·  74 reviews
At the height of his theatrical career, the actor Leo Proudhammer is nearly felled by a heart attack. As he hovers between life and death, Baldwin shows the choices that have made him enviably famous and terrifyingly vulnerable.

For between Leo's childhood on the streets of Harlem and his arrival into the intoxicating world of the theater lies a wilderness of desire and los
Paperback, 496 pages
Published February 17th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1968)
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Another Country by James BaldwinGiovanni's Room by James BaldwinThe Fire Next Time by James BaldwinGo Tell It on the Mountain by James BaldwinNotes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Best of James Baldwin
8th out of 22 books — 40 voters
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan KunderaOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a MárquezA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran FoerThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Most Poetic Book Titles
252nd out of 1,005 books — 575 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,781)
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Curtis Ackie
Baldwin once said "You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read." And this sentiment is certainly what I felt whilst reading this wonderful novel. At times it was eerie how well I could relate to it.
Baldwin, for me, is one of those writers who defines what their art is about. He is able to address a range of themes and emotions in a clear, unfussy style that makes his stories both a joy to behold and an experience to share. His characters live and breathe in ways to which we can all relate, and exist in worlds we recognise. It is this authenticity of description and experience that allows you to become so involved and invested in the stories and the journeys of his characters. That there is ...more
The back of this book makes it out to be the life story of a black actor who rises to greatness, but is "torn between two different kinds of love". I don't think Baldwin makes as big a deal as all that about the fact that the character, Leo, has one lover who is a woman his age and one who is a man much younger than he is. The woman, Barbara, is white and that is a big deal. But that doesn't affect their feelings about each other nearly as much as it affects their ability to be together in socie ...more
I picked up this book after a long period of reading either non-fiction or science fiction and fantasy. Its safe to say that i have fallen deeply in love with James Baldwin and I have been brought back safely to novel-land. In this lesser known work, Baldwin demonstrates his skillful use language, and his deep understanding of the human condition in the racist, sexist, heteronormative, capitalist United States. This book will truly move your heart and mind, and push you grapple with your own con ...more
Kamron Alexander
This is my second Baldwin title, and he still sits as one of the best writers i've ever stumbled upon. In this novel, just like Another Country, I saw parts of myself in many of the characters, which is a talent that cannot be scaled.
The pain and the lust and the intimacy and the world pre-civil rights all was hyper real and demonstrated how many aspects of the Black American Male psyche has not changed, and cannot change without replacing instilled hatred with love. As hard as that actually is
Jabiz Raisdana
James Baldwin talks to a part of my soul like no other writer. I have read three of his books so far and have made a promise to read every word he has ever written. This is great, because he has over 20 novels, plays, and collections of short stories and essays.

He writes about race, class, art and life like no one else. He is one of the most important writers of our time. The content is not for MS readers, but he is a name you should add to your list when you are older as someone to explore.

Son Lam
“Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone” by James Baldwin tells the story of Leo Proudhammer, a successful African American actor who grew up in Harlem. The book is set in no one place, but rather is a retelling of Proudhammer’s life, from his childhood in the ghettos of Harlem to the bright city stages. Growing up in Harlem with his small family, Proudhammer became inspired by the movies he frequently watches, and decides to become an actor. He works hard, moving from city to city, dancing wit ...more
Not my favorite James Baldwin, but still highly engaging. Engaging enough to read all 484 pages in 8 days during the school year. They publishers market this book with Leo Proudhammer's two love affairs, one with a white woman and the other with a younger, gay Black man post WW2. The latter isn't mentioned until the last 30 pages. The former love affair left out too many details. I appreciated Proudhammer's strong sense of identity, never seeming to doubt himself nor whom he loved as a Black, bi ...more
Ryan Milbrath
Tell Me How Long the Train Has Been Gone is James Baldwin’s fourth novel. Published in 1968, Baldwin’s work explores his usual themes of racism, white privilege, bisexuality, Christianity and interracial relationships. Though not as prominently recognized as Giovanni’s Room, Go Tell it On the Mountain, or If Beale Street Could Talk, Baldwin’s fourth novel builds on themes otherwise discussed in these previous works. At the time of writing Tell Me How Long the Train Has Been Gone, Baldwin was kno ...more
This book goes on and on and on and could have been 100-150 pages shorter without losing much. There were scenes I really enjoyed in this book, and I especially enjoyed the last 50 pages or so, but overall, not my cup of tea.
Chris brown
The prose of this book is, in actuality, poetic. This was not one of my favorite Bladwin books but the beauty and craftsmanship of how these words are place together keeps you reading to the very end. I think if I had been a different person, maybe interested in theater or film, or if I had a brother, maybe that deeper connection would have been made. Still this book is high art well worth a read and discussion.
A wildly sprawling book that never lifts off (especially the last section, when Black Christopher makes an appearance - I didn't see the love between him and his narrator).

A man, an important stage actor, has a heartattack onstage - and for the rest of the novel he remembers key sequences that affected his life: his brother's wrongful imprisonment, his life in Harlem, his workings at a summer acting camp, his finding himself as an actor and a human, his relationship with some white actresses tha
Reading protagonist actor Leo Proudhammer's beautifully rendered and angry meditation on race, incest, and sexually ambiguous and polyamorous relationships packed quite a wallop, and quite frankly exhausted me. The novel shifts from Leo's brush with death after suffering a heart attack backstage during a performance; his life flashes before his eyes remembering the three people he loved most: His adored older brother, Caleb who is jailed and later becomes a preacher; his younger black lover Chri ...more
Jo Stafford
I first read this book when I was a teenager. Returning to it a few decades later felt like revisiting a beloved friend, except I now have enough life experience to appreciate it even more than I did when I first read it. Baldwin's eloquence and poetic prose once again captured me, but this time around I was also struck by his understanding of the human condition. Baldwin always bore witness to the injustices meted out against African Americans and this is to the fore in this novel. But it was h ...more
This one took me a while to finish, not for lack of interest, but I found the structure of the book somewhat difficult. Digressions, descriptions of a past relationships, characterization of his childhood and family life would begin and when finished I was often surprised to realize we were back in a setting weld left pages and pages before. Two things stood out for me -- one was the discussion of religion that took place with Barbara's family over brunch at Leo's when Christopher explains its s ...more
I read the Penguin Twentieth Century Classics edition of this book and I would be happy to classify it as a "great American novel". It's beautifully and powerfully written, if a little slow at the start, and the protagonist, Leo Proudhammer, is a thoughtful, sympathetic and engaging character, as are most of the supporting cast. I think it has pretty broad appeal as the story of someone trying to make it against the odds. But it's also what the internet calls "relevant to my interests", in a hug ...more
اغلب شخصیت های جیمز بالدوین، از جمعیت سیاهان آمریکا معروف به "آفریقایی – آمریکایی" هستند، و بنا بر دوران زندگی بالدوین در نیمه ی اول قرن بیستم، سرشار از موضوعات نژادی، مذهبی، سیاسی و درگیری های میان سیاه و سفید در جامعه ی آمریکا هستند. از این لحاظ می توان آثار بالدوین را با "اثول فوگارد" نویسنده ی آفریقای جنوبی مقایسه کرد.
لئو یک هنرپیشه ی سیاه که در هارلم بزرگ شده، روی صحنه دچار حمله ی قلبی می شود. این حادثه سبب می شود تا وقایع زندگی لئو بصورت بازگشت به گذشته، روایت شود. باربارا، زنی سفیدپوست ک
Not as awesome as your average Baldwin fare, but when your average hovers within the "astoundingly prophetic work of piercing literary genius" range, I guess you can afford to strike below the mark every now and again. Baldwin is my all-time no-contest forever-favorite American novelist, so I'm compelled to read everything he wrote (and probably biased in my assessments), and even though "Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone" doesn't approach the structural perfection of "Another Country," the ...more
I really loved this book. Few writers have the capacity to make me fall in love, and to break my heart, and Baldwin does it best. A beautiful story, structured like a series of memories during a turning point in a man's life. The memories jump forward and back in time, as memories do, but not too drastically, and they are treated with that sort of painful, bittersweet nostalgia that one feels when looking back at those defining moments in one's life. The moments of regret and warmth, the fights ...more
Virginia Baker
Once again James Baldwin has blown my mind. Some authors are very tedious when addressing the race issue in our country, but Baldwin explores it from a different angle in each of his books. This book dives into the religious aspects that are apparent in Go Tell It On The Mountain and the interracial relationships that are clear in Another Country and the homosexual relationships that are present in Giovanni's Room. He is able to blend everything together in this book to depict the life of Leo Pr ...more
Donovan Christie Jr
Must read

His writing is captivating. I agree with a previous comment that his works should be required reading in school, especially this day in age. So ahead of it's time, that even now it's relevant. Ended abruptly, but only because I didn't want it to end.
I expected so much more from Baldwin. I think this one crumbled under the weight of trying to tackle sexuality, incest, racism, poverty, and institutionalization all at once.

And such a promising title.
M.R. Dowsing
This is about a famous black actor looking back on his years of struggle whilst recuperating from a heart attack. As usual with Baldwin, themes of race, sexuality and religion are to the fore. I found it a little less good than his other novels, perhaps partly because much of it's set in the world of the theatre, and one or two of the characters seemed a little too good to be true, almost as if they're wish-fulfilment figures. It also lacked a little direction. However, Baldwin did not write any ...more
James Baldwin is a master class writer. This isn't as good as Another Country or Go Tell It on the Mountain, but it is better than Giovanni's Room. There are moments in this book where Baldwin soars with his ability to flesh out a character and their emotions. The figure of Leo Proudhammer is one of the most convincing characters I have read in a while. The only thing that detracts from this book is the way the plot is structured. It is a little sloppy and the end feels a little tacked on, but d ...more
I loved this book and was sad to see it end. Baldwin's writing style is so honest and straightforward - and brave, especially for its time (published in 1960s). He delves into so many sensitive and sometimes painful subjects: being black in 1950s and '60s America, bisexuality, interracial relationships, the struggles of an artist, living in a home with an alcoholic father and a troubled brother. I've read that many of the stories and characters in his novels are based on his own life. I'm lookin ...more
Rianna Jade
Not his best or even in his top 5. But it's Baldwin so his language will still take you for a spin.
This one took me awhile to finish. Yet, every time I picked it back up, I was drawn into the life of Leo Proudhammer, whose position on the outskirts of society (in terms of race, sexuality, class and career) affords him unique insight into (and disgust with) American society. I love the way Baldwin writes. Though this was not my favorite Baldwin book, I appreciate the way the characters' progressive approaches to life and art allow them to critique the rigidity and intolerance of America.
Having sat on my bookshelf for best part of five years, scruffy and yellow-paged, I finally picked it up as an antidote to the surfeit of crime books read and to-be-read. Dense-packed with tiny type, I wondered how long I'd be able to stick with it.
Half a dozen pages in, I wondered how I'd be able to put it down. Totally absorbing, incredibly well-observed, beautifully written and thoroughly compelling. despite the frequency of a tear-blocked throat.
I am very very impressed. It almost seems the writer is getting it out of the system. With some occasional uncool statements like " I am short, she is even shorter than me, but I am very strong", it also has some really good ones,
this one I will remember for a long time: "God will join us later, once he was sure, that we were on the winning side".
It is amazing how well thought it was from a drama artist perspective though.
Feb 07, 2008 Brett rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone in the theater; anyone who loves; anyone who thinks there are no longer issuse with race
Baldwin just slays me. I've never been so wrapped up in the human experience more than when I read his books. I'm likely to just give them all 4 or 5 stars each time. But this one in particular is a whopper. The depth of the characters, and their 30-year evolving histories, makes the book so rich. I lived someplace else during the reading of this book, somewhere outside of my heart and head, somewhere between me and the page. Amazing.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and '60s. The eldest of nine children, his stepfather was a minister. At age 14, Bal
More about James Baldwin...
Go Tell It on the Mountain Giovanni's Room The Fire Next Time Notes of a Native Son Another Country

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“Everyone wishes to be loved, but in the event, nearly no one can bear it. Everyone desires love but also finds it impossible to believe that he deserves it.” 41 likes
“I went down again. My heart and I went down again. I was aware of her hand. I was aware of my breathing. I could no longer see it, but I was aware of her face.” 3 likes
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