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Giovanni's Room

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  30,056 Ratings  ·  2,339 Reviews
Considered an 'audacious' second novel, GIOVANNI'S ROOM is set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence. This now-classic story of a fated love triangle explores, with uncompromising clarity, the conflicts between desire, conventional morality and sexual identity.
Kindle Edition, 180 pages
Published October 4th 2001 by Penguin (first published 1956)
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Chip Howell The poetic language of the book is what kept me reading, that and this particular novel's similarities to the work of Franz Kafka (in totally…moreThe poetic language of the book is what kept me reading, that and this particular novel's similarities to the work of Franz Kafka (in totally unexpected ways, but I'd spoil the plot if I said how: nobody turns into cockroaches or anything, but there is a certain attitude that is very "Kafkaesque" and it makes you wanna strangle the protagonist,or at least slap him every three pages) I think that the hardest thing to actually deal with in terms of this book is the fact that it's old fashoned in so many ways: that's not a bad thing: but for readers more accustomed to the brevity common in more contemporary writing, the slower pacing is a HUGE turnoff and it seems to linger over things that don't seem that important or that big a deal, but given the time in which this novel was written, the very idea of a men being affectionate towards one another was unheard of and couldn't actually be written about without heavy, heavy censorship.

As for what kept me reading was the fact that I loved the language of the book more than I loved the story itself. Baldwin is a master of the mood and if you approach his prose the way you'd approach music or a poem then that might help, the relationships between words in the novel are as important as the story that the novel is telling. The point of Baldwin's writing wasn't to "get to the end of the story" but to enjoy the ride through it, and to learn something along the way. The real drawback is that the story itself proceeds from an older, outmoded, outdated concept of human sexuality and many of the moral attitudes prevailing when it was written are VERY apparent in the way the novel skips over the juicy bits, while continually pointing to them and apparently lingering over things that don't seem to have relevance to the story, but considering the amount of repression in American society at the time this was written, it would probably help to look for various clues about the story in the stuff that doesn't seem related. Also, what's hilarious is the camp wasn't camp at the time Giovanni's Room was written, that's what was expected, and indeed the characters themselves reflect those older, brutally hetero-normative attitudes in their interactions (or lack of them.)

I think this is a great novel, but its flaw is its age. Non-hetero writing no longer needs to closet itself and go in circles around a subject, and though this is a brilliant and relevant novel, it had to put itself at least partially in the closet so to speak. I'd suggest that you continue reading, but if possible, try to "relax into the language" and just go where it leads you. Be aware of the emotional connotations and implications of those apparently endless descriptions; if possible, try to get a bead on how sensual and sensuous those sentences are; but ultimately, if that kind of language isn't your thing, then just be aware that you're reading an artifact of another age, when life itself was lived at a different pace. That might not help you to get through it, but it'll hopefully put some of the "dullness" into perspective.(less)
Greg Z Lots of questions David. 1) No, I have not had a romantic experience in Paris, although I've visited Paris. 2) The longer I live, it's my personal…moreLots of questions David. 1) No, I have not had a romantic experience in Paris, although I've visited Paris. 2) The longer I live, it's my personal observation that far more people are between the "100% straight" and "100% gay" labels than we've ever suspected (but I don't like labels), so (3) this kind of experience would never surprise me, and if that's what consenting adults want, then there is value. 4) I believe most of these experiences end neither positively or negatively, they just end, like a meal or a movie. (less)
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Community Reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jeffrey by: John Irving
”He grasped me by the collar, wrestling and caressing at once, fluid and iron at once: saliva spraying from his lips and his eyes full of tears, but with the bones of his face showing and the muscles leaping in his arms and neck. ‘You want to leave Giovanni because he makes you stink. You want to despise Giovanni because he is not afraid of the stink of love. You want to kill him in the name of all your lying moralities. And you--you are immoral. You are, by far, the most immoral man I have met ...more
Mar 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, queer
God, Giovanni's Room is heart-breaking. I've been avoiding reviewing it, a bit, because it boils so much to the surface. No summary or review could do this book total justice. What Baldwin achieves is a desperate account of two gay-or-bisexual men struggling with their sexuality, their society, and most importantly their identities: identities which are at once masculine and yet deprived of that masculinity by their complicity with a society that doesn't understand them. Baldwin's artistry is fo ...more
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who love in fear
Recommended to Dolors by: Many goodreaders
It is under the foreign sky of Paris, where identity is protected by anonymity and the most darkest secrets do not transcend the limits of a room, that David, an American young man, is forced to face the convoluted layers of the true nature of his identity. Told in the first-person narrator, Giovanni's Room bewilders the reader because of the perturbing sensitivity with which Baldwin portrays an extremely delicate predicament; that of listening to the self-deprecating inner voices that corrode t ...more
I wasn't sure any Baldwin book would surpass his Go Tell is to the Mountain, which I loved, but this one was even better and an immediate favourite. This story was wonderfully-written and explored a gay storyline which I have never encountered in African-American writing from Baldwin's era.Supposedly quite a few prolific African-American writers were not such big fans of Baldwin due to this reason.

This story is set in Paris and is about an American man, David, who is in love with both a man, Gio
Raeleen Lemay
Feb 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of The Great Gatsby
Read for Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge: #17 Read a classic by an author of color


This was a super enjoyable read! I went into this not really knowing what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised by how modern this felt, even though it was published in the 1950s. The way Baldwin approached the affair of the two main characters, who are both men, was so effortless and accepting, which I found to be really refreshing. Hella, who is the one primary female character in the book, als
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow...I read only one review of this book...which was soooo good....
I immediately bought a used copy....yet, I don't think 'any' review prepares a reader for what they are about to experience.

I have two words: Morally Mystifying!!!!

THANK YOU *Lizzy*. I stayed....and I 'was' granted this masterpiece.
Huda Yahya
وراء كل سعادة تختفي تعاسة
ووراء كل متعة يختفي خوف

الحديث عن المثلية أمر شائك دوما
في كل مكان وزمان
لا تظن أن الغرب قد تخلص من عقدة العنصرية
حتى بين أبناء جلدته ووطنه

فلا يزال المثلي يعامل باضطهاد شنيع
يصل للقتل في أحايين كثيرة

نحن دوما أعداء ما نجهل
ودوما أعداء كل ما هو مختلف
ودما تسبقنا كراهيتنا للآخر قبل تفهمنا
هذا إن تفهمنا

عائلة البشر الكبيرة هذه تبدو مخزية في أحايين كثيرة

جيوفاني هو الإيطالي المثلي الذي يقع في حب ديفيد
ولكن ديفيد لديه خطيبة وهو لا يؤمن بالحب كثيرا

وديفيد يقع في الصراع ال
Sep 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, own, reviewed
I am in awe of James Baldwin's seamless way with words. His writing shakes me to my very core, I feel so vividly all the emotions described, the contradicting war within the world and within the self between hot, flaming fire and ice cold water, between fervent heat and stone cold detachment. The motif of water and the ocean and its metaphorical association with time, Giovanni's room itself, the inescapable self and claustrophobia particularly struck me- I feel overwhelmed and shaken by this tra ...more
Then the door is before him. There is darkness all around him, there is silence in him. Then the door opens and he stands alone, the whole world falling away from him. And the brief corner of the sky seems to be shrieking, though he does not hear a sound. Then the earth tilts, he is thrown forward on his face in darkness, and his journey begins.

Sometimes you read a book and you suddenly find yourself hijacked by a form of spellbinding intensity that spews from a participant narrator. You're
Barry Pierce
Love, love, love, love, love this. Baldwin, be mine! This is such a gorgeously written little novel. I can't conceive of how Baldwin fit so much sheer emotion into around 150 pages. Baldwin is practically unknown here in Ireland and it's such an injustice. I want everyone to read this and be in awe of the sheer brilliance of it. (Fans of Isherwood would love this btw)
Sep 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2017
"for nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom."
- James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room


Baldwin is everything. He ability to articulate the struggle to be a man in a world where both black men and gay men were considered 2nd class (if lucky) citizens taught me. He is the reason I read (or at least one of the reasons) good fiction. It transports me into the experience of the other. His writing is a gift. The emotions of this novel are expressed as if Baldwin's heart was set aflame in Pari
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt
Often touted as a classic of gay literature, and I think quite rightly; this is a heartbreaking analysis of love, attachment and the struggle between what society expects and what is felt. Baldwin treats complex relationships with some warmth and no easy or comfortable answers. There is debate as to whether Baldwin is focussing on bisexuality, but you have to look at the context and the sense that the two main characters are on a journey of self discovery with varying degrees of acceptance.
The t
Donna Ho Shing
Dec 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here's what l shall do: buy all Baldwin's books, every single one and just read them all. Back to back to back to back... What a genius this man is. What impeccable, perfect writing. How can a story contained in just 159 pages pack such a punch? HOW?!

Let the record show that on this day James Baldwin officially, OFFICIALLY became my favorite writer (after Toni Morrison at whose feet I humbly bow, perpetually).
"If your countrymen think that privacy is a crime, so much the worse for your country..."
Love is(n't) enough.

Love is(n't) enough in how it's done. Love is(n't) enough in how it's pressed upon and consolidated and ultimately allowed. When you look at it, especially when looking is all that's allowed, you start to feel that it's how it's always been, and you are the same as anyone. Unless you talk, which here on out is (never) the case.

But feeling, though. That's the compass of your crime. It b
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michael by: Jeffrey Keeten
This is a tragedy of failed love in post-war Paris, featuring a protagonist as hard to judge as Camus' "The Stranger." The narrator, David, is a young man on an extended stay from the U.S. on parental funds, ostensibly to develop his writing skills, but in reality to play. A transient gay fling with an impoverished, artistic Bohemian leads to an idyllic cohabitation while his fiancé travels in the East. You know it didn’t last from the beginning of the book, but as the affair proceeds, you feel ...more
Edward Lorn
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Edward by: fortheloveofryan
Shelves: paperbacks
I'm disappointed. This book failed to deliver.

Buh-buh-but E.! You gave it five stars.

Shuddup, random person on the internet. You have no power here!

But how can you give it five stars if it failed?

Because it didn't make me gay.

Oh, okay. Wait... what?

It failed in making me gay. Homosexual, if you will. I do not, after having read this book, find men sexually attractive. Well, there is Johnny Depp. That's one pretty man. But, overall, I'm still, like, 99.9% straight.

What the fuck are you talking
MJ Nicholls
Baldwin picked up where Gore Vidal left off in The City & the Pillar. This novel renders Vidal’s effort a tame, breezy vacation at the hotel de homo, sizzling as it does with dirty-realist conflict, torturous identity politics, and one of the whiniest lovers since Courtney Love hooked up with the entire population of Iran. One frustrating conflict—Baldwin wanted to escape the “Negro writer” ghetto, so made his characters (it would seem) white in this novel. Imagine the stink if he’d written ...more
Apr 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Yulia by: Ruth Bavetta
A wise and painful book, it speaks of authenticity and home and loss, how we convince ourselves to make irrevocable mistakes and how these choices harden in us and reveal themselves to strangers. I hope it continues to be as beautiful.

This is a book I want to own and make room for. I'm making slow progress, but only because I'm distracted by life, not because the book doesn't capture my attention and consideration.

It becomes even more powerful as it goes on, in fact, and even more painful. I'v
Paul Bryant
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
In James Baldwin’s words:

They said I was a Negro writer and I would reach a very special audience. . . . And I would be dead if I alienated that audience. That, in effect, nobody would accept that book—coming from me. . . . My agent told me to burn it…. [the publishers] told me, ‘This new book will ruin your career, … and we won’t publish this book as a favor to you.’

Fair enough, James Baldwin wanted to avoid being pigeonholed as a black writer. So made his protagonist here white. So here we ha
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is difficult to properly review this fantastic book without giving away critical information that is best revealed by reading it in Baldwin's words. There are two sections of the book I went back to read when I finished the novel because their poignancy was made manifest by the totality of the completed story.

Giovanni's room, the physical place, is the locus of the all-to-human story of regret, loss and the result of choices we have to make when their aren't any really good options to choose
mark monday
Jun 14, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queertime
poetic prose at its most yearning and beautiful. this could have been perfection, but it is a bit hard to ignore the underlying misogyny.
Yes, amazing.

What exactly is amazing about this book?

-the writing
-its theme
-the characters
-how the story holds together, its structure

That this book with its central theme being homosexuality and bi-sexuality came to be published in 1956 is pretty darn amazing too, but this doesn’t play into why I give it five stars.

The writing:
You feel the place, Paris, France. The 50s or maybe the end of the the 40s. French lines and expressions used are simply perfect. What these people say in French is wh
James Baldwin's closet romance is so good that you find yourself pitying the authors of straight romances. There's so much less drama available! There's this whole stratum of pain available to those conflicted or in denial about or hiding their sexuality, and those in their wake. Why do we even read straight romances? So boring!

Giovanni's Room is a perfect novel. Clear and merciless and focused. Okay, and screamingly melodramatic, but I've never had a problem with melodrama. And it contains an a
Khashayar Mohammadi
Best work of fiction I have read for months. Very french in terms of the claustrophobic discussions of lovers trapped in the miasma of cigarettes and doubt. I wanted to reach out and scream, to intervene, to prevent. A very powerful novel and a great way to kickstart pride month. What a fantastic introduction to the work of James Baldwin.
BAM The Bibliomaniac
A love story in every capacity. There is confusion, infidelity, argument, disenchantment, passion, and companionship. I felt like the narrator experimented because he had nothing else to do, he needed a place to stay, a person to keep him occupied. Giovanni is a tortured soul caught in both the narrator's treachery and his own doubtful will. This is a story that could be based on real life.
Nov 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'll write a proper review later, but for now I'll just express how much I LOVED this book.

Three weeks later and I still don't think I can do it justice.

I'd previously heard a lot of good things about Giovanni's room, mainly that it was beautifully written, though heartbreakingly sad, which I would agree with. In the 'didn't like' camp I've read complaints about how David wasn't a likeable character and treated everyone terribly, or that he never accepted his sexuality. Well, this was written
Julie Ehlers
Sep 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, france
The well-known Buddhist saying "Wherever you go, there you are" may never be more true than when applied to expatriates. Off they go to Paris to find themselves, only to become more lost than ever.

There is little I can say about Giovanni's Room that hasn't already been said. This brief novel is vivid and painful, its protagonist, David, so repressed and fearful that there can be no catharsis for him--although fortunately, and relievedly, the reader gets one via another character. Make no mistake
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing

With unvarnished honesty, covered with a layer of sarcasm which veils the beauty, the desperation, the pain, most of all the fear, Baldwin captures that see-saw of certainty and uncertainty that is me. Despite the tragic story filled with impending doom, he captured me by the writing and did not let go till the end. To tell the truth I do not think he let go then either, because this will probably one of those books that creep up on me in unexpected times in my life.

I both hated and pitied David
I was torn between 5 stars and 1 star.

5 stars because it was a brilliant book and very well written. 1 star because it was so hard to read. The sheer amount of self-loathing, pain, and destruction depicted in the book was very hard to take. Like those fallen soldier momuments with their mottos of "Never Forget", we do need to remember though what life was like for those that came before us. And just how hard the struggle is for many, even today.

But while this book is a useful fictional window
Nov 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mark by: mark monday
This is one of those books that i find, having read it, I cannot imagine why I have not read it before. Absolutely extraordinary. It is a story at the end of which you feel mangled and depressed. The narrator, an american who has been living in Paris and living with a young italian, gradually has to come to terms with a bleak future which lies ahead for him in which alone and guilt-ridden he seeks to try to exist.

The story is one of betrayal and abuse as David, our narrator, moves in with the yo
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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. He was the eldest of nine children; his stepfather was a minister. At age
More about James Baldwin...

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“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” 720 likes
“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.” 204 likes
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