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Sonny's Blues

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  5,045 ratings  ·  257 reviews
Part of the Penguin 60s series, issued to celebrate 60 years of Penguin books. This collects "Sonny's Blues", "The Rockpile" and "Previous Condition", all taken from Going to Meet the Man (Penguin, 1991).
Paperback, 88 pages
Published November 1st 1994 by Klett (first published January 1st 1957)
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Average rating 4.26  · 
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 ·  5,045 ratings  ·  257 reviews

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I guess Sonny's Blues is OK if you like that sort of thing. In this case, that sort of thing being nearly perfectly crafted fiction. That sort of thing being a story that's so universal and so timeless that it can be felt by any and everybody on the face of the earth. This sort of thing being the kind of story every writer should be aspiring to write before his or her days on this earth are through. Baldwin is simply the most amazing person I've never known, and if I don't read every single word ...more
This review probably contains spoilers.

It's the 1950's in Harlem, and times are hard for two young men , brothers, who have lost their parents and are now trying to find their own way in life, separately, with differing ideas about how to go about it, but still connected, as brothers are everywhere. The younger brother, Sonny, knows he has to escape Harlem to live the kind of life he wants. He loves music, Jazz and Blues, and he wants to earn his way in life doing what he loves. His older brothe
I finished reading last night... the story goes straight to your heart, well written..
Jon Nakapalau
Powerful and deeply moving story of two brothers trying to come to terms with their relationship amidst crime, drug abuse and potential wasted - highly recommended.
Brian Yahn
Sep 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
James Baldwin reminds us that childhood isn't rife with happiness like everyone else paints it, that--for most--life isn't a fairy-tale, but far from it. Sonny's Blues is so real it should come with a warning label.
Hiba Arrame
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I can't believe I'm giving four 🌟 for a book I had to read for school. But wonders can happen!
This story is about two brothers, a wannabe musician and a maths teacher, the first is a heroin addict, the second is in good shape. What I liked about this book is the message it transmits, and that one should not feel guilty upon thinking that one didn't protect his loved ones well enough, because honestly? No matter how you try you cannot completely protect them, but you can let them know you're the
Apr 21, 2010 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Because I've read this excerpt I want to read the whole book: "All I know about music is that not many people really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another ord ...more
Charlie Miller
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-story
An incredibly touching piece of writing, beautifully executed
B. P. Rinehart
Empathy through suffering and the blues. This short story is some of the best elements of Baldwin's fiction used to convey the central themes that he wrote about. Though I feel that his best writing is his non-fiction (something he always disagreed with), he is still one of the great fiction writers of his generation. This was a short story that would have made Anton Chekhov proud with its depth and feel for humanity as represented by the two brothers. James Baldwin's ability to re-create Harlem ...more
Feb 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009, favorites, school
Achingly beautiful and fantastically written. What I love most about this short story is how well this can be adapted into so many lives and how painful any kind of addiction can be and how tragic and life-changing it is to overcome it. It caught me off guard, how much I felt for Sonny, and how much I truly enjoyed it.
Jan 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
No one writes about music and solitude as Baldwin does.
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I couldn’t believe it: but what I mean by that is that I couldn’t find any room for it anywhere inside me. I had kept it outside me for a long time. I hadn’t wanted to know.
Well, the word had never before sounded as heavy, as real, as it sounded that afternoon [...]
[...] it was as though he were all wrapped up in some cloud, some fire, some vision all his own; and there wasn't any way to reach him.
And then there are some who just live, really, in hell, and they know it and they see what's ha
Three short stories about life in Harlem for young black children. Other reviewers have pointed to the 1950's which seems right with situations described - eg mention of horse and cart deliveries, motor cars, the evolved state of jazz ("Like Louis Armstrong?"... "No. I'm not talking about none of that old-time, down-home crap.")

These are not happy memory stories, they are hard times. Themes include disconnection (and reconnection) of family, drugs, jazz, parental relationship / control of childr
Sonny's Blues begins with the unnamed narrator discovering that his brother has been picked up for using and selling heroin.
I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work. I read it, and I couldn't believe it, and I read it again. Then perhaps I just stared at it, at the newsprint spelling out his name, spelling out the story. I stared at it in the swinging lights of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roare
Rachel Nicole Wagner
Aug 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
4.5/5 Stars.

I really like the writing style of James Baldwin and I enjoyed the emotional journey I was transported on through this story.

One of the best stories I've ever read this year. If you haven't cried while reading it, there must be something wrong with you.
Vivian Chen (Vivian's Book Pavilion)
This is post originally on Vivian's Book Pavilion Literature Page

After I finished this story…I immediately compared it with Everyday Use by Alice Walker, I can’t help but associate the brothers with Dee and Maggie. The narrator wasn’t exactly the same as Dee, but in some way, they share the same situation. During their time, the inequality between black and white was easily seen. The narrator choose to blend in, that was his way of survive. On the contrary, Sonny decided to become a musician,
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: miniature, musique

I loved the story the first couple of times I read it, then fell more deeply in love with it when I taught it three or four times. At places a little over-written, at times a bit dated, but all in all it's a masterpiece.
Eunice A
This well-written short story is my favorite. It is at once painful and beautiful. The final scene moves me every single time that I reread it. It is perfection.
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: assigned-reading
I wrote an essay about this last year, so it's safe to say it made an impression on me.
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this short story over a few sittings, taking my time. I would have given this story 5 stars, but the story had three too many "it's" (18 on the first page alone, and that drives me crazy!). I was told in high school English, as well as university, that we were not to use the word "it." So now naturally, when I read a published writer, I automatically zone in on that one word, that, and the word "thing."

That aside, this was a story about how humans deal with the "deep darkness," or the "te
Michael Kress
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1950s, display
"Tell you a little secret about the blues; it’s not enough to know which notes to play, you gotta know why they need to be played." -George Carlin

Sonny knew why they needed to be played.

This is the second book by James Baldwin that I've read, and he is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. It's one of those books that makes me wonder why it isn't more popular. If you're a musician or a fan of blues and jazz, then you've got to check this out. It's a first-person narrative by Sonny's brot
Feb 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" is one of the short stories we discuss in my college class. It lends itself to the discussion of many literary terms, such as flashbacks and in medias res. More importantly, it initiates great discussions. We discuss the story in general terms, focusing our discussion on life, but we also discuss more culturally/racially-specific ideas. It's a great story, and I feel like I discover more within it during every reading.
Wow. What an outstanding talent. This novella was not only incredibly well written, with a magnetic rhythm into it, it also touched me deeply. This was the best short novel I've read and I definitely need to read more (or everything) by Baldwin.

It's better to step into it blindly so I will only say one more thing: please read this!
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a really powerful book in which everyone should read. The story opens with the narrator, who reads about his younger brother named Sonny who has been caught in a heroin..... its a great very short read book.
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it must always be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”
David Pickett
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful story set in the 1950s in Harlem that takes on drug addiction, economic classes among black Americans, the power of music (specifically jazz, duh), and most poignantly the relationship between two brothers who struggle to convey the love that they feel for one another.
Never Without a Book
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Short, but powerful.
Joao Carvalho
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I first read a small passage in ECC.and created a essay about it. I read the book before the essay was due, and it made it soo much easier to answer the prompt. The book is very good in the sense of being relatable in same way to most people that have problems and real life

The book is basically the story of two brothers , one is a teacher(narrator) and the other is Sonny. The narrator suffers from the Brother addition to drugs. He thinks that the students that he has will take the same path as h
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sonny's Blues is a story about a plethora of things, among which is arrant purgatory, unarticulated suffering, ire, and the ceaseless scuffle life shoves down our throats until it rubs so rawly it atrociously hurts.

It is a story about drug addiction and the relationship betwixt a musician's life, mind, and instrument. Nevertheless, to me, it was a story of the artist as a sufferer before anything else, for as an artist, too—or let us say a human who is struggling—I can only entangle and unweave
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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

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“For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness.” 167 likes
“All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.” 97 likes
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