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Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone

4.23  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,510 Ratings  ·  86 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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The Fire Next Time by James BaldwinAnother Country by James BaldwinGiovanni's Room by James BaldwinGo Tell It on the Mountain by James BaldwinNotes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Best of James Baldwin
11th out of 22 books — 45 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
209th out of 1,042 books — 647 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Curtis Ackie
Apr 06, 2014 Curtis Ackie rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 16, 2016 Sofia rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-5-stars, br, 2016

4.5 stars

Baldwin’s view of America is different that the view I get from other books. It’s a view full with pain, hurt, anger, violence, poverty, racism which affect in one way all another all the people in play that is all Americans.
"I was part of these people, no matter how bitterly I judged them. I would never be able to leave this country. I could only leave it briefly, like a drowning man coming up for air. I had the choice of perishing with these doomed people, or of fleeing them, denying
Oct 30, 2011 Geoff rated it really liked it
Shelves: fully-reviewed
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
Nov 15, 2008 Kat rated it liked it
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
Jan 06, 2008 Liz rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 30, 2014 Kamron Alexander rated it really liked it
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.

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.
Son Lam
Dec 19, 2013 Son Lam rated it liked it
“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
May 13, 2014 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mine
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
Oct 31, 2015 Algernon rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Baldwin's fourth novel is quite readable throughout, plunging right in with the protagonist (Leo Proudhammer, a famous African-American actor) suffering a heart attack while on stage. For this reader, what is most compelling in this novel is the journey back in time to Leo's childhood, his father, and in particular his relationship with his brother Caleb. By comparison, his relationship with Christopher (who begins to involve him in the Black Power movement) is intriguing but neglected, and stra ...more
Ryan Milbrath
Oct 13, 2014 Ryan Milbrath rated it really liked it
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
Nov 23, 2014 Jeremy rated it it was ok
Shelves: gay, book-club, ebooks
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.
Noah Riley
Sep 01, 2015 Noah Riley rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing read, then the ending left me feeling thrust out of the story, unfinished.
Apr 29, 2015 Salvatore rated it it was ok
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
Jun 02, 2016 Edwin rated it really liked it
"Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone" follows Leo Proudhammer (a poverty stricken, bisexual black man) through adolescence into adulthood. Through a series of flashbacks we see his improbable rise to the heights of Hollywood. As if the deck wasn't already stacked against him, the story takes place during the very tumultuous times of the Civil Rights movement. With all these sociological hot buttons in place, one could almost safely assume what to expect from such a story.

James Baldwin however
Dec 01, 2014 Marcos rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 16, 2014 Jo Stafford rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 10, 2014 Tessyohnka rated it really liked it
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
Dec 06, 2015 Lydia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, paperback
I'm not sure why it took me so long to finish this book. It is well written novella by James Baldwin about the life of acclaimed black actor Leo Proudhammer, whose heart attack forces him to reflect on his life and his look to the future. It begins with his upbringing in Harlem and ends in the Vietnam War, hippie-era 60s. It is an exploration of his relationship with his parents and his even more difficult and complex relationship with this older brother Caleb.

It's a story of black family life
Mar 27, 2012 Lia rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 02, 2007 علی rated it liked it
Shelves: world-literature
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
Dec 01, 2008 Andrea rated it really liked it
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
Virginia Baker
Feb 05, 2012 Virginia Baker rated it it was amazing
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
May 07, 2016 Madlyn rated it really liked it
I enjoyed Leo's journey to successfully accomplishing his goals in life as an Actor. For some stunning to learn at a younger age how he felt he was bisexual when his brother was released from jail and he continued acting out those feeling into adulthood.
Well, that took some doing. I was only reading on those 370 pages for a total of four weeks... Although it was better than “Go Tell It on the Mountain”, James Baldwin still pretty frustrating to read. Not much action (if any), and slow paced memories and rambling. The non-linear storytelling consisted of lots of extensive flashbacks and no real, traditional plot. However, that is much like life. So at least this novel gets points for realism.

Two more things stand out: first, a bisexual characte
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.
Aug 23, 2014 Annie rated it liked it
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
Sep 30, 2012 M.R. Dowsing rated it really liked it
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
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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
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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.” 47 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.” 2 likes
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