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Giovanni's Room

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  63,292 ratings  ·  5,215 reviews
Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin's now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human ...more
Kindle Edition, Vintage International, 178 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by Vintage (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 unexpect…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 The real drawback is that the story itself proceeds from an older, outmoded, outdated concept of human sexuality and many of the moral attitudes prevailing when it was written are VERY apparent in the way the novel skips over the juicy bits,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 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 obs…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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Average rating 4.24  · 
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 ·  63,292 ratings  ·  5,215 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, ur-so-gay
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
Jim Fonseca

A great novel. The word “ferocious” comes to mind when I think of the intensity of several keys scenes in the novel where the main character, a gay man in Paris, struggles to turn against his gay orientation and tries to find happiness with a woman he has pledged to marry. The novel, published in 1956, is considered a classic of gay literature. Several key scenes that vividly impart to the reader that intensity of feeling are when he leaves his male lover, when his female lover
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"I scarcely know how to describe that room. It became, in a way, every room I had ever been in and every room I find myself in hereafter will remind me of Giovanni’s room."

At the end of July, I spent a short but glorious time in 1950s Paris in Giovanni’s room. And I want to tell you about my incredible experience, but I can’t quite figure out how to go about it. Having been left in the thrall of James Baldwin’s achingly exquisite prose, I have been left speechless. I can’t do the book justice. Y
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recs, 2015
A lyrical work of fiction about the failure of love, Giovanni's Room retraces the missteps that led an impassioned affair between two men away from the promise of happiness toward catastrophic ruin. The first-person narrator's ever-present despair casts a melancholic shadow over the events he recollects, even those that might at first appear to be pleasant. A sense of deep regret pervades all of the novel. From the start, the reader and narrator share an understanding of the story's devastating ...more
Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘i scarcely know how to describe that room. it became, in a way, every room i had ever been in and every room i find myself in hereafter will remind me of giovannis room.’

simply beautiful. simply heartbreaking. simply real.

this would probably be a 3 star read if it hadnt been for moments of such elegant prose. i love, love, love the way JB describes human emotions and feelings, particularly love and affection. but the overall narrative, which reminds me very much of the type of storytelling
Elyse  Walters
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.
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
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“Beneath the joy, of course, was anguish and beneath the amazement was fear […] By then anguish and fear had become the surface on which we slipped and slid, losing balance, dignity, and pride.”
It’s a terrible thing to be driven by fear and shame. To be caught in the web of self-loathing, mistrust, denial, untruths; in the eternal struggle between desire and guilt; a neverending existential crisis that becomes your entire existence. The fight between what is perceived as normal, what is exp
Donna Ho Shing
Dec 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here's what i'll 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 (2nd only to Toni Morrison at whose feet I humbly bow, perpetually).
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 Par
Andy Marr
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A grim tale of human relations, told by one of the most unpleasant protagonists I've ever encountered. The story left me drained and angry, but it's an important book, and an exceptional read.
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)
Samra Yusuf
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay-romance
The only true freedom we’ve ever savored is the freedom of thought, since the dawn of history, or the time before, we are born with a manual to function properly, and it goes without saying, some of us who stop functioning by the book, are ostracized as lepers or worse, Freedom comes with a price always, and with markers so many, indoctrinated conventionalism must minding her business outside the pants of people, but here the opposite is true, the vanilla business of dogmas seem to be much arden ...more
Is there a way to escape the doom of society if you are not a rich, white, heterosexual, married man having "clean sex" with your own "lawful" wife with the purpose of producing a new generation of rich, white, heterosexual, married men?

Even the wife of this single category of human who is allowed shameless, guiltfree pleasure may not be free from shame and guilt. She may feel guilty for enjoying too much or too little what is expected of her as a marital duty. But at least she will have the sa
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
I like this more than the three stars would indicate. The melodrama was a problem for me. The plot is simple and brilliantly done. David the American doesn’t want to admit he has homosexual impulses. His fiancée, Hella, doesn’t know he’s gay because David doesn’t know it. David is confused, as his friend Jacques at one point remarks. He’s experiencing major cognitive dissonance, simultaneously knowing something and acting as if it weren’t so. For he has met the beautiful, the irresistible Giovan ...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.
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: constricted hearts who live in fear
"You do, sometimes, remind me of the kind of man who is tempted to put himself in prison in order to avoid being hit by a car."

This insightful observation is made by Giovanni, to his lover David. An American in Paris, David is escaping from the conventional expectations he feels from his father, and pretty much everyone else in greater society. In Paris, he feels freer to live and love more honestly. But even in Paris, he and Giovanni are trapped in a shabby room with sightless windows, lest
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
A few months ago, I was blown away by the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which featured James Baldwin. I only heard of Baldwin a few years prior, via other GR friends' reviews of his books. I had his books on my TBR list, but they were there with six hundred other books ...
Anyway, that documentary pushed me to seek some of his books.

It didn't occur to me when watching the documentary that Baldwin was gay. The poor man, being black and gay, during a very reprehensible period in US history. No
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
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
mark monday
poetic prose at its most yearning and beautiful. this could have been perfection, but it is a bit hard to ignore the underlying misogyny.
Edward Lorn
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Edward by: fortheloveofryan
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
"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
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 abou ...more
The writing is so good, no wonder everyone likes this. I have only one fault, and it's a fairly major one - the murder and guillotine were not necessary. There is so much pain and sorrow endured and regretted, through David's careless, ugly betrayal, and Giovanni's loss and subsequent dissolution that - for me and for them - it was enough.

'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 t
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.
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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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