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If Beale Street Could Talk

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  40,764 ratings  ·  4,451 reviews
In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin's story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible c ...more
Paperback, 197 pages
Published October 10th 2006 by Vintage (first published 1974)
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Tweetybird It's worth reading the book, if only to be made aware of how little has changed (in the USA especially) for people of colour. So... very depressing fr…moreIt's worth reading the book, if only to be made aware of how little has changed (in the USA especially) for people of colour. So... very depressing from that perspective. But the tenacity of spirit shown by Fonnie & his father, Tish & her family, and some of the other characters is very inspiring. What I don't understand is why this, and other such novels written by African American authors, isn't required reading in senior year in high schools in [North] America, same as "To Kill A Mockingbird". Just to give the teenagers a taste of real life, before they have to live in it themselves. ~Diana K.(less)

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Jeffrey Keeten
”I thought of Fonny’s touch, of Fonny, in my arms, his breath, his touch, his odor, his weight, that terrible and beautiful presence riding into me and his breath being snarled, as if by a golden thread, deeper and deeper in his throat as he rode--as he rode deeper and deeper not so much into me as into a kingdom which lay just behind his eyes. He worked on wood that way. He worked on stone that way. If I had never seen him work, I might never have known he loved me.

It’s a miracle to realize th
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

"It’s a miracle to realize that somebody loves you."

You might call this a love story, and you would be right. But this is a love story à la James Baldwin. And if you have read James Baldwin, then you will understand that this is a love story full of passion, yes, but also charged with torment, beauty, and truth. It is real love with no embellishment. It is wholly and incredibly believable. And it's also more than just a love story.

Fonny Hunt and Tish Rivers, a young black couple living
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fucking hell. Reeling. I can't wait to see what Barry Jenkins does with the film adaptation.

UPDATE (1/17/18)

I have finally seen the film adaptation! I went to a screening last Saturday with a friend. Here are some thoughts, which I shared in the comments section in response to Nicole:

I found the film adaptation to be just the kind of movie I would expect from Barry Jenkins, and yet not what I would have imagined as a film adaptation of this book. In my mind's eye, I saw something grittier, some
Last year I got up from the rock I was under and finally discovered the writing of James Baldwin. In one of my goodreads group, I read Giovanni’s Room with a few friends. The writing was outstanding and the ensuing discussion even better. We made plans to read another Baldwin novel in January and I was game. I suggested If Beale Street Could Talk based on the title, having no idea that the story was soon to be released as a movie. The title evokes images of a Memphis blues house and I envisioned ...more
Richard (on hiatus)
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin is a an angry and sometimes brutal love story set in the Bronx, New York.
Tish is 19 and pregnant - her partner Fonny is a couple of years older and in prison, falsely accused of rape. Tish’s family are close and supportive. Fonny’s are stiff and judgemental.
Childhood friends, Tish and Fonny (Alonzo) have fallen in love and are building a life together. With meagre income and youthful naivety this is never going to be easy.
The situation they find thems
Sep 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I’m disappointed to report If Beale Street Could Talk was just ok for me. I wasn’t blown away. Perhaps my expectations were too high after all of the hype surrounding the book but I have to say, I felt letdown.

New York City, 1970s: Fonny, a young African-American man, is accused of raping a woman, a crime he did not commit. While he’s in jail, his newly pregnant girlfriend, Tish, works diligently with her family and Fonny’s father, Frank, going to great lengths beyond their means to try to save
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
A bleak tragedy about incarceration, endurance, and anti-Blackness, If Beale Street Could Talk gives voice to the despair of a young couple living in Harlem during the seventies. Nineteen-year-old Tish is pregnant and engaged to Fonny, a sculptor who’s been imprisoned after being accused of rape by a Puerto Rican woman. A local cop with a vendetta against Fonny has framed him, and manipulated the survivor of rape into giving false testimony and fleeing the country. The main storyline follows the ...more
Glenn Sumi
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: contemp-classics
A lyrical, rapturous, beautifully written short novel about love in the face of brutal injustice.

Fonny and Tish are a young Black couple in early 1970s New York City. Fonny has been falsely accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman and is in prison; Tish, who narrates most of the book, is pregnant. Their families – especially Tish's – are working to get Fonny out of jail, but then, as now, the odds are stacked against a young Black man, especially when there's a racist cop looking to pin something
You have to brace yourself to read James Baldwin. And even then, even if you know he’s going to throw a punch at you, he’ll still knock you right off your feet.

Written and set in the 1970s, “If Beale Street Could Talk” might as well be set now, because this is the kind of story that we read about in the news all too often: and just as in real life, there is no perfect resolution to this tale of injustice, prejudice and broken homes.

Tish and Fonny have always loved each other, even when they were
Mar 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
I've never come across a Baldwin read I didn't love. Beale Street 'talked' something sexual and consciously charged. It is profound and suspenseful storytelling (I think I was on page 78 and still didn't know why Fonny was locked up, yet I went along patiently and willingly). This book is very different from the lyricism that is Go Tell It on the Mountain and Giovanni's Room, but the love story and angst is Baldwinian. I don't think I've come across such a vivid portrait of the urban, African-Am ...more
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's a lyrical voice that seems to have the power of penetrating even dreams...

The family unit is the strongest structure--it's refreshing to see the power of staying together, of belonging by blood. Remember "Raisin in the Sun"? It's power is as magnetic as this novel's. Which is all about the family, about rescuing members that are drowning.

&, of course, the enormous racism inherent in the U.S. "correction" system is seen at the forefront.
May 12, 2019 rated it liked it
A novel about racial injustice in New York in the 1970s. A young black man is arrested for a rape he didn't commit. I have to confess at one point I was hoping for the twist that he was guilty because that would have opened up a much broader canvas. But this is a novel of angels and demons and was never nuanced enough to truly engage me. I never got as angry as the author wanted me to get. And I'm someone who gets angry easily at social injustice and racism. Perhaps everyone in this book was too ...more
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-favorites
"Black love literally shouldn’t exist in America, in any form. Familial, heterosexual, trans, queer, community, etc. Everything was done to prevent it. It is the purest form and most glaring example in American History, to me, of resistance." - Reginald Cunningham from "Black Love is Revolutionary" via the Huffington Post (2017).

A classic novel that showcases two participants in this revolution, Tish & Fonny. Despite all of the odds, they stuck by each other and knew that their love, which devel
Ammara Abid
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
My first read by Baldwin & now I know the reason why he's a renowned great writer. ...more
Sep 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
A sobering look at the injustice of racial profiling in New York in the 70’s, this shows the human side of a family uniting to prove one of their own innocent amongst all the odds stacked against them. The strength of their collective love to free an innocent man from life in jail really pulls at the heartstrings, it’s clear early on that hope is dim with the knowledge that it’s a one sided judicial system a system that is there to derail them. It’s sad and raw and it should make you angry, but ...more
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: black-writers
I decided to reread If Beale Street Could Talk in anticipation of its movie adaptation hitting cinemas in Germany next week. I first read it back in April 2017, and already forgot much of the plot and outcome of the story. Now, as I did back then, I managed to read this wonderful novel within one day. Spanning only 197 pages that’s not the biggest achievement, but still: there aren’t many authors who can captivate me and keep my attention like Baldwin does. If Beale Street Could Talk is, as of r ...more
Read By RodKelly
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"One of the most terrible, most mysterious things about a life is that a warning can be heeded only in retrospect: too late."

That this novel, first published in 1974, rings so true 43 years later, is an indicator that James Baldwin is indeed correct: the life of the black man in America is marked by constant belated warnings that leave our previous brothers marked as a target for the corrupt justice system that is intent on shackling us or killing us, or both.

The emotional center of everything
Alice Poon
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
This was a riveting read. Baldwin’s honest and emotion-laden writing grabs you from the start. He tells you a simple story of gross injustices inflicted on people of color in New York City in the 60s and 70s. Weaving into this narrative family love, passionate love between two young people, hope and despair, dogmatic prejudices and forgiveness, he transports you to a world that makes you throw your hands up in disbelief at the injustices and at the same time marvel at humanity.

Fonny and Tish fro
Mar 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
In one of the more memorable lines of "To Kill a Mockingbird", Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout to never judge a man until she's walked a mile in his shoes. The lesson, of course, is that it is not possible to walk a mile in another man's shoes (and therefore impossible to ever really know him), and therefore we should never judge.

So if it is impossible to walk in another man's shoes, as an author James Baldwin gets us as close to this as is possible. His writing of disenfranchised African
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I listened to this audiobook for several reasons. Joshua Greer said Bahni Turpin is one of his favorite narrators, James Baldwin is on my list of authors to finally read in 2020, and Audible is giving subscribers $20 in Amazon credit for finishing three books by a date in March. (I hope books we already owned count- update, they do.)
What is really amazing is how a novel from 1974 is practically a readalike to An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, although the Jones has an extra twist. Suffice t
Matthew Ted
[37th book of 2021.]

I recently read an article about Brandon Taylor, writer of Real Life, which was titled "I didn't write this book for the white gaze". In it, he is described as making an interesting point that I had never considered before but identify now as being true: "He hates when his work is called “raw” and “visceral”. Mostly because the work of black writers often receives these coded, confining labels, much as rap music is often called “urban” and black fashion is called “streetwear”
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
The vulnerability of black bodies, is what James Baldwin is talking about, once again showing why he's the spiritual progenitor of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Fonny looks the wrong way at the wrong cop, and the next thing you know his body is in jail for rape. He's innocent, but what does that have to do with anything?

You know how in a romantic comedy, you have these characters that ought to be together but some sort of dramatic contrivance or misunderstanding is introduced to keep them apart?

Top seven re
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
I guess it can’t be to often that two people can laugh and make love, too, make love because they are laughing, laugh because they’re making love. The love and the laughter come from the same place: but not many people go there.

This tale should be the sweetest love story ever told, and in many ways indeed Tish and Fonny are as true to each other and as much in love as Romeo and his Juliet. But the world they live in is not a fairytale or a stage, but a place where simply having the wrong kind
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, 2019-read
This is a brilliant novel about systemic racism and its social and psychological effects, but it is also a book about the strength of black families and communities as well as the power of solidarity. Set in Harlem in the 1970's, Baldwin tells the story of Tish and Fonny, two young lovers who have known each other all their lives. Fonny gets falsely accused of a crime he didn't commit and is wrongfully imprisoned, then Tish finds out she's pregnant - what will become of their romantic love story ...more
Daniel Chaikin
Nov 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
The essay collection No Name in the Street includes the story of a friend of Baldwin's who was charged with a murder he couldn't have committed and spent over ten years in prison, despite the high-paid lawyer Baldwin found for him. That experience is the inspiration for this fictional look at the criminal justice system in New York through Tish, a young woman from Harlem who got pregnant just before her fiance, Fonny, got locked up as a suspect in a black-on-white rape.

Here Baldwin tones down h
May 22, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tish and Fonny are not extraordinary. That's what makes James Baldwin's storytelling so powerful. The situations they find themselves in and the experiences they go through together are all too common for Black Americans. And nearly 50 year later, the themes of policing, racism and the prison industrial complex are still as prevalent as ever.

I was surprised by how simple the storyline was, considering how sophisticated some of Baldwin's other works are. But the focus for this one is truly in th
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: high-five, 2018
When it comes to writing a review for this, I prefer to share a small afterword as I prefer to let Baldwin's words speak rather than mine.

"I sat on the hassock, leaning on Daddy's knee. Now, it was seven o'clock and the streets were full of noises. I felt very quiet after my long day, and my baby began to be real to me. I don't mean that it hadn't been real before; but, now, in a way, I was alone with it. Sis had left the lights very low. She put on a Ray Charles record and sat on the sofa.

I lis
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was my first book of Baldwin's. Knowing I wanted to see the movie, I figured reading this beforehand would be a good place to start.

I want to preface this by saying that writing this is difficult for me. As a white woman writing a review of a book written by an AOC about POC, I want to acknowledge that my perspective is different and there might be things I missed. In fact, I do feel like I missed something because I wasn't as emotionally invested in Tish and Fonnie's relationship as I thou
Neal Adolph
I usually don't say that a book is unput-downable, because in my limited reading experience I have found very few books have been unput-downable. But here I am, late in the morning, waking up after unexpectedly finishing this book last night, having picked it up for a few more pages of progress before going to sleep, and then having been kept awake by the growing sense of unease and frustration until finally I finished it, turning that final electronic page, and feeling far from relieved by what ...more
Bluesy it Ain’t. “Twas More Like Rap Gone Bad

I wanted to learn about Beale Street, and the blues, and the lives of the artists that lived there, but this book was about a man and a woman who had fallen in love.

When reading the first three pages
I saw the corner of a dark room,
a home of a black friend’s friend
or maybe I knew her too, but
I don’t remember who she was,
only that we went to the same church.

Across the street from her house
there was a white picket fence, and
I only knew that I was in Ric
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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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