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If Beale Street Could Talk

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  20,488 ratings  ·  2,323 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 cr ...more
Paperback, movie tie-in edition, 197 pages
Published October 30th 2018 by Vintage (first published 1974)
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Kasandra After finding out that Tish was pregnant, her family was very supportive, however, Fonny's family was not so accepting. His mother raged with anger,…moreAfter finding out that Tish was pregnant, her family was very supportive, however, Fonny's family was not so accepting. His mother raged with anger, "you have a demon in you" (74), saying that she didn't want anything to do with the baby. The only physical fighting that was done was Mr. Hunt hitting Mrs. Hunt for saying all the cruel things about the baby. When leaving Ernestine sarcastically threatened Mrs. Hunt and her daughters, she angrily tells them," if you ever come near this house gain in life, I will kill you" (79) . (less)
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4.23  · 
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 ·  20,488 ratings  ·  2,323 reviews


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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
...more
Candi
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Ifeyinwa
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Brina
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
Michael
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, favorites
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
Cheryl
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
Glenn Sumi
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Fabian
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a lyrical voice that seems to have the power of penetrating even dreams...

The family unit is the strongest structure--it is 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 at the forefront.
Reggie
"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 d
...more
Katie
May 12, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ammara Abid
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first read by Baldwin & now I know the reason why he's a renowned great writer.
Alice Poon
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Brian
Mar 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Read By RodKelly
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-owned
"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
...more
Meike
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
Alex
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Katharine
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Josh
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, high-five
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
...more
Watch Your Words
At the center of Baldwin’s critique on the universality of oppression and pain is a love story that is both delicate and bold in its attempt to fight a system that would keep people of color from receiving the dignity they deserve. Through Tish, Baldwin has created not only a living breathing entity, that is so familiar you could mistake her for your own sister, but also a swirling metaphor for the power that earnest love can have on shaping the world around us and birthing the hope we all need ...more
Jessaka
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
...more
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
leynes
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 about 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 o ...more
Bobbieshiann
81 pages in I cried real tears of understanding while curled up in my bed. I don’t think I’ve ever read so much passion like this before. If Beale Street Could Talk brought forth so many lessons for me. I kept thinking that this Black love must be sacred. It cannot be broken because the power within it creates a foundation that sets a tone of purity and honesty. Tish and Fonny are a young couple who’s love has no limits. They both come from poverty but both families lead in two different directi ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
4 stars

I had to reflect on this book for a few days before I could even think of reviewing it. Not because of the story, but because of the author. There has not been a James Baldwin book that I did not like - but trying to completely understand everything he has said in his books takes me a few days. You read one of his stories and it appears straight forward, but upon further thought you begin to see the underlying issues and subtleties that Baldwin has actually written about.

Baldwin writes a
...more
Clif Hostetler
May 16, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
This novel was published in 1974, but its message is very much applicable to the “Black Lives Matter” movement that became part of the news beginning in 2012. There are two contrasting themes in this story. First it is a love story in which a young African American couple are in love, become engaged, and the two families offer support in various ways. Second it is a tragedy showing how one crooked cop can destroy familial equanimity by falsely charging the young black male with rape.

This story i
...more
Joe
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Only Baldwin could transform a seemingly simple love story into a powerful commentary about racism, manhood, belonging, ethnic conflict, and religious hypocrisy in the United States. Without resorting to elaborate rhetoric, he conjures an image of New York City that feels both of its time and contemporary. In it, racist forces work in tandem to perpetuate the marginalization of non-white and poor individuals via unjust incarceration, a reality not too far removed from ours. Yet, in the face of a ...more
Lisa
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[4+] When I started this slender novel, it seemed fairly simplistic compared to "Another Country" or "Giovanni's Room." But by the time I was half way through, I changed my mind. Baldwin brilliantly exposes racism and injustice while portraying the love between Fonny and Tish and her family members in a tender and believable way.
Eric Anderson
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was lucky enough to see an early screening of Barry Jenkins' film 'Moonlight' at the London Film Festival back in 2016. It was one of my favourite films of that year and I was thrilled that it won the Oscar for Best Picture a few months later – after Warren Beatty finally opened the right envelope! Jenkins new film is an adaptation of James Baldwin's “If Beale Street Could Talk” and I'm really looking forward to seeing it. But I always try to read a book before seeing the film version and I've ...more
Jessica Woodbury
Within a minute of finding out Barry Jenkins would be adapting this book, I put it on hold at the library. I usually like to read a book and then have some space before seeing the film version so this should work out nicely. I've also had an itch to read more Baldwin ever since seeing I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO earlier this year.

This is my 5th Baldwin book and every time I read one I am mad at myself for not having read them all yet. He is a wonder. And not just his nonfiction, which gets more attenti
...more
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James^Baldwin

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 mini
...more
“Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind.” 162 likes
“Those kids aren't dumb. But the people who run these schools want to make sure they don't get smart: they are really teaching the kids to be slaves.” 57 likes
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