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Notes of a Native Son

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Since its original publication in 1955, this first nonfiction collection of essays by James Baldwin remains an American classic. His impassioned essays on life in Harlem, the protest novel, movies, and African Americans abroad are as powerful today as when they were first written.
--back cover

192 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1955

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About the author

James Baldwin

278 books11k followers
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 14, Baldwin became a preacher at the small Fireside Pentecostal Church in Harlem. In the early 1940s, he transferred his faith from religion to literature. Critics, however, note the impassioned cadences of Black churches are still evident in his writing. Go Tell It on the Mountain, his first novel, is a partially autobiographical account of his youth. His essay collections Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time were influential in informing a large white audience.

From 1948, Baldwin made his home primarily in the south of France, but often returned to the USA to lecture or teach. In 1957, he began spending half of each year in New York City. His novels include Giovanni's Room, about a white American expatriate who must come to terms with his homosexuality, and Another Country, about racial and gay sexual tensions among New York intellectuals. His inclusion of gay themes resulted in a lot of savage criticism from the Black community. Eldridge Cleaver, of the Black Panthers, stated the Baldwin's writing displayed an "agonizing, total hatred of blacks." Baldwin's play, Blues for Mister Charlie, was produced in 1964. Going to Meet the Man and Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone provided powerful descriptions of American racism. As an openly gay man, he became increasingly outspoken in condemning discrimination against lesbian and gay people.

On November 30, 1987 Baldwin died from stomach cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France. He was buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, near New York City.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,341 reviews
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,463 followers
February 26, 2014
“Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent.” - James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

James Baldwin was a fascinating and eloquent man, one who I would have loved to have had a conversation with. His insights into racial issues are truly phenomenal.

This is a collection of short essays about Baldwin's experience with race. In the first three essays Baldwin critiques various books and movies on black culture that he believes do the race a disservice. In the 1950s when black representation was relatively low in both literature and film, I would assume that most black people would have been glad just to see themselves in print and on film;however, Baldwin talks about how misrepresentation is just as damaging as non-representation. I admire him a lot for that.

The other essays go into the black experience in the States and in Europe. One thing he said about his experiences in a small village in Switzerland was truly profound:

“I thought of white men arriving for the first time in an African village, strangers there, as I am a stranger here, and tried to imagine the astounded populace touching their hair and marveling at the color of their skin. But there is a great difference between being the first white man to be seen by Africans and being the first black man to be seen by whites. The white man takes the astonishment as tribute, for he arrives to conquer and to convert the natives, whose inferiority in relation to himself is not even to be questioned; whereas I, without a thought of conquest, find myself among a people whose culture controls me, has even, in a sense, created me, people who have cost me more in anguish and rage than they will ever know”

My favourite essay in this book was probably the titular one, Notes of a Native Son. It was heartbreaking and touching. I've read "Go Tell it on the Mountain" and I detested Baldwin's father. However, after reading this essay, my perception has changed a little. I still found the father unlikeable but now I'm appreciating how difficult it must have been for a black man, an authoritative one trying to raise his family in a society in which all his hard work accounts for next to nothing, a society in which he is the king at home and is considered a "boy" in the white world. I could tell that Baldwin was trying to understand and forgive his father, and let go of his anger; it was truly touching:

“… I did not want to see him because I hated him. But this was not true. It was only that I had hated him and I wanted to hold on to this hatred… one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”

Very powerful essays.

Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews48.1k followers
March 27, 2022
I read books extremely fast most of the time, for two main reasons:
1) my natural reading pace is pretty speedy,
and 2) and much more significantly, I have an absurd and punishing brain that urges me to pursue projects like "read a short story a day" and "read three chapters of a classic for a month" and "finish a book on a daily basis at LEAST."

In other words, I force it.

But I can never speed through James Baldwin. His writing always helps me to slow down, to think about what I'm reading, to consume and be consumed by books.

It rules. Huge compliment.

Bottom line: This is a great book to read if you want to crawl inside James Baldwin's brain. And who doesn't


reading books by Black authors for Black History Month!

book 1: caste
book 2: business not as usual
book 3: the color purple
book 4: the parking lot attendant
book 5: kindred
book 6: wrapped up in you
book 7: the boyfriend project
book 8: a song below water
book 9: filthy animals
book 10: passing
book 11: seven days in june
book 12: ayiti
book 13: notes of a native son
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
February 28, 2017
This is my 3rd James Baldwin book this year. .....first time as an audiobook.

"Notes of A Native Son", is a great intro. into other books Baldwin has written.

These 'notes' are a collection of essays -- written when Baldwin was in his 20's
during the 1940's and early 50's. It was fascinating learning about Baldwin as a young man and his experiences being Black in America through the civil rights movement-- and steps forward.
His memories about unfairness is piercing. I felt his bitterness - then re-visited my sadness of injustice when Baldwin wrote -- [SPOKEN LOUDLY on the audiobook]. "Black is a terrible color in which to be born into this world".

James Baldwin writes beautiful. He covers complicated themes.. racism in America-
Traditions for the black man -isolation within the black community-
He talks about his attempts to better understand his father whom he had a strained relationship with.

Search for identity and pride is an ongoing battle.

Rigorous.... significant.... relevant issues!

James Baldwin articulates what it means to be a Black American and be an American --giving insight about the truth and struggles -- and how shameful these truths have been.

Timeless and Tremendous!
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews864 followers
February 10, 2020
“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.”

Better known for works such as Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son (published 2 years later in 1955) is an important collection of essays which highlights issues Baldwin would continue to address. Subjects of his essays include his own home life, life in Harlem, the inequities of separate but equal treatment of blacks in 1940s and 50s America as well as his own experiences in France after WWII.

“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.”

“You can not describe anything without betraying your point of view, your aspirations, your fears, your hopes. Everything.”

Baldwin's prose still resonates and is relevant today. I find myself wanting to read more and more Baldwin!
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
August 3, 2018
Powerful and precise as all of the essays are, Baldwin hits his stride with the titular piece, in which he embeds personal meditations on his father's death into a social analysis of the Harlem riot of 1943 and race relations in America. There's nothing else quite like it in the collection, though the essays about Paris in the third and final section are almost as brilliant.
Profile Image for Nicole~.
198 reviews243 followers
October 28, 2016
To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won't destroy you.
- James Baldwin from "The Negro in American Culture", Cross Currents, XI (1961), p. 205

In his dramatic and provocative short piece Notes of a Native Son (1955) included in the ten essay volume of the same title, Baldwin connects a series of coincidental events, unifying them in a brilliantly conceived aesthetic design. Segmented in three parts, he reviews: an act of rage against a waitress in a restaurant; his father's death and his sister's birth; a race riot in Harlem, his father's burial and his 19th birthday.

In order really to hate white people one has to block so much out of the mind – and the heart – that this hatred becomes an exhaustive and self destructive pose.

Baldwin examined parallels between his younger, unenlightened self and his father's characteristic of garnering the enmity of many with his often unchecked fury. An experience of discrimination in a New Jersey restaurant ignited Baldwin's already building rage, leading him to throw a water pitcher at a waitress. Suddenly frightened by what he had done, he fled the scene, later speculating: "I could not get over two facts, both equally difficult for the imagination to grasp, and one was that I could have been murdered. But the other was that I had been ready to commit murder. I saw nothing very clearly but I did see this: that my life, my real life was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart."

I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.

July 29th, 1943 : The coincidence of his sister's birth, the same day as the death of his father - a man who was, to Baldwin, "certainly the most bitter man I have ever met," whom he considered was poisoned by the intense loathing, fear and cruelty he carried in him (diagnosed with mental-illness and later tuberculosis) - symbolically shaped in Baldwin's mind the death of an old toxic bitterness and the forming of an untainted, new beginning, to forgive and accept..."life and death so close together, and love and hatred, and right and wrong...." Ironically, his father's simple words echoed with posthumous meaning, that "bitterness is folly."

Harlem had needed something to smash. To smash something is the ghetto's chronic need.

August 3rd, 1943 : As if "God himself had devised [ it ] ", the day that marked his 19th birthday, the day his father was returned to the earth, a race riot roiled in Harlem. Ghetto members vented their anger, fought one another, destroyed and looted in "directionless, hopeless bitterness", leaving smashed glass and rubble as 'spoils' of injustice, anarchy, discontent and hatred. These events deeply affected Baldwin who upon reflection sought a change from ill-will to good, to let go the demons and darkness that threatened to consume him - the hatred, bitterness, rage, violence, disillusionment, the social problems perpetuated by 'being Negro in America.'

It was necessary to hold on to the things that mattered. The dead man mattered, the new life mattered; blackness and whiteness did not matter; to believe that they did was to acquiesce in one's own destruction. Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated and this was an immutable law.

As a writer, Baldwin depended greatly on his past experiences, grasping at every bittersweet drop. "I think that the past is all that makes the present coherent, and further that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly." Whether by coincidence or divine making, Baldwin's reflection on those fateful few days was spiritual, cleansing, revelatory, life-saving. From it germinated a new philosophy and idealism that lingered strongly and eternally, nourishing a poetic power and sustaining a literary genius for many years hence.

First read February 27th, 2014
Profile Image for Brian.
Author 1 book978 followers
January 26, 2015
Around this time last year friend Rowena and I did a buddy-read of this collection of Baldwin essays. It wasn’t the first Baldwin book that I’d read, but it was the first book of his non-fiction. It was also the first book that I’ve read that made me feel SHAME for being a white man. The full weight of my race’s mistreatment of African Americans became personal in the light of Baldwin’s writing. It doesn’t matter that I was born six years after the Civil Rights Act, that I never owned slaves or participated in Jim Crow – there is plenty for which I’m responsible in that inheritance of malfeasance that is made manifest - many times without me even being aware it is happening.

After we finished the tandem read Rowena asked me here on GR if I planned on writing a review. The story is that I did write a review (a couple of drafts, in truth) but after reading what I wrote everything just sounded to my ears like the tinny braying of a white man’s take on something he could never understand. So I ended up shredding those thoughts and posted nothing. Now, after a year reflection on the texts – and a background of tense race relations in the USA, I decided to pick this volume up again and give it another read. Baldwin’s words are iodine-in-wound necessary to those of us “privileged” to be born white, male, American and affluent. I didn’t get to choose the circumstances of my birth, just like Baldwin didn’t. So just what is my responsibility to that inheritance that feels like a lodestone? Here’s what Baldwin says in his preface to the 30th anniversary edition to this work:

My inheritance was particular, specifically limited and limiting: my birthright was vast, connecting me to all that lives, and to everyone, forever. But one cannot claim the birthright without accepting the inheritance.

Therefore, when I began seriously to write – when I knew that I was committed, that this would be my life – I had to try to describe that particular condition which was – is – the living proof of my inheritance. And at the same time, with that very same description, I had to claim my birthright. I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.

That is beautiful – a sentiment written in 1984, three years before Baldwin’s death. I wonder what Baldwin would have to say, had he lived to be 90 and published a new preface in 2014 commemorating the 60th anniversary of this work - his country lead by an African American President (elected twice, no less) but also suffering through the shit-shows of Michael Brown and Eric Garner? Absent this, I’m happy to have this rich volume of essays that remind me many times the best thing is to just listen.
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,909 reviews4,777 followers
April 23, 2023
I could not be more grateful to Erica (thebrokenspine) for including me on this journey where we are reading Baldwins entire bibliography. This was my first time reading Baldwin and it didn't disappoint. It was pure brilliance.

I would be a liar if I said I didn't struggle with reading this. There were sections that I had to read time and time again because I didn't feel as though I was grasping what Baldwin was intending. It's clear that Baldwin was still attempting to find his voice as a writer with these essays. That doesn't make their impact any less meaningful; however, this wouldn't be the first place that I would recommend readers starting with Baldwin. Some parts of the essays were overly verbose, yet Baldwin is still able to capture the experience of so many individuals in such a short collection. I loved his commentary on Black representation in media as well as commentary on his experience of being a Black man living in Paris. If you're interested in hearing my full thoughts on this, be sure to check out the live show that I did with Erica and Josh here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVv_B...
Profile Image for Brierly.
155 reviews104 followers
January 11, 2018
Society, it would seem, is a flimsy structure, beneath contempt, designed by and for all the other people, and experience is nothing more than sensation—so many sensations, added up like arithmetic, give one the rich, full life.

I already know that I love James Baldwin's fiction (Giovanni's Room and If Beale Street Could Talk) so I am not surprised to feel similar about this collection of essays. But, this being a collection, of course there was an uneven appreciation as compared to a complete, cohesive work.

Notes of a Native Son are essays from the beginning of Baldwin's career; he divides the text into three main groupings: literary criticism, blackness, and identity. These are rough groupings, I know, but it helps you realize how different "Everybody's Protest Novel," which is an A+ lit crit essay on Uncle Tom's Cabin from "Notes of a Native Son," the title essay on his father. Each section contains several essays; the titular essay "Notes of a Native Son" is likely the strongest in the pack. Yet, as always, Baldwin's craftsmanship as evident in his sentence structure astounds me. I have never read anyone like Baldwin before.

And as the introduction aptly puts it, the fiction offered a person of enormous humanity. The essays offered a man, a neighbor, or, yes, an older brother. You need to read some nonfiction to have the full perspective towards Baldwin's novels.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,100 reviews2,951 followers
December 23, 2017
MY VIDEO ESSAY ON THIS BOOK: https://youtu.be/vFBHQEfsq1o

You might be surprised by the low rating but, unfortunately, I can't justify a higher one. James Baldwin is an author I deeply admire and look up to. He is an incredibly talented writer and I want to read his complete bibliography. I'm surprised myself that I didn't click with Notes of a Native Son. I was so sure that I would love it but alas! it didn't work for me.
The story of the Negro in America is the story of America – or, more precisely, it is the story of Americans. It is not a very pretty story: the story of a people is never pretty.
Notes of a Native Son (1955) is the first nonfiction book by James. It collects ten essays surrouding the issues of race in the US an Europe (mainly France, and later Switzerland).

It's interesting to read Baldwin's earlier writings, especially when one is familiar with his subsequent brilliant books such as The Fire Next Time or If Beale Street Could Talk. It becomes apparent that it took Baldwin some years before he eventually found his voice. I will elaborate on this point later, it felt like he knew (content-wise) what he wanted to say but just not how to express it properly.

Prior to Native Son, Baldwin didn't have the best experience with the publishing industry. After the completion of Giovanni's Room, a novel which focuses on a homosexual relationship, he was told by Publisher's Row that he 'was a young Negro writer, who, if he published this book, would alienate his audience and ruin his career.' His publisher looked on Giovanni's Room with horror and loathing, and refused to touch it.

This is purely my own speculation: I think that these experiences played their part in how James saw himself and his work. Being branded a 'Negro writer' isn't necessarily an advantage.
I don't like people who like me because I'm a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. […] I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done. I want to be an honest man and a good writer.
Baldwin's aim is a noble one: to write about the experience of African-American people in the US and showcase the issues with the system of institutionalized racism. In my opinion, he took upon this task to soon and didn't manage to express an universal wisdom like he did in later years. [And who can judge him, homeboy was 30 years old when he wrote Native Son.]

His voice comes off as aloof, detached and overly erudite – hard to access for no good reason. I genuinely felt that Baldwin lacked feeling for his audience. At times, it felt like he was writing for an exclusive circle of white academics. His choice of words and the perspectives he chose to write from really didn't work for me. I felt very disconnected from him, and thus from the happenings he was writing about. Let's take a sentence like this:
It is an aspect of his humiliation whittled down to a manageable size and then transferred; it is the best form the Negro has for tabulating vocally his long record of grievances against his native land.
Native Son is littered with words that are overblown for no reason. It rubbed me the wrong way how Baldwin positioned himself within these stories. As if he were an unfazed observer who talked about/for people rather than letting them speak for themselves.

He begins a lot of his sentences with constructs like this:
The American Negro cannot explain to the African what …

Yet one day he will face …

It occurs to him that …
His language feels oddly impersonal and overbearing. I really feel like he took the easy way out: it's always easier to write about people rather than feel with them. Too often, he attempts to speak for African-Americans, and sometimes other races, as a whole – blending each individual experience into one. There is no such thing as 'The American Negro™'. All of his generalizations are ridiculous. Although I do not think that Baldwin meant any harm with it, I think that he wanted to give his words a 'scholastic bling', making them seem as if they sprung from an academic text book or social study. He wasn't yet aware of the worthiness of his personal experiences, thinking that no one would care for them.

Moreover, he often spoke from the perspective of white people, oddly, including himself in that group:
Up to today we are set at a division, so that he [the black man] may not marry our daughters or our sisters, nor may he – for the most part – eat at our tables or live in our houses.
This reinforces my notion that he might have had a white target audience in mind. Again, it didn't work for me and intensified the distance between myself and the text at hand.

The essays in which he describes his own experiences and feelings – the titular essay Notes of a Native Son and his account of his days spent in a French jail – are the strongest. In them Baldwin shines and shows what he's worth. It was gut-wrenching and emotional to learn about his difficult relationship with his religion-obsessed father, and the fact that he felt like he was going to suffucate in the US which is why he fled to Paris. In the titular essay, he details how his anger, once it exploded out of him in a café where a white waitress refused to serve him, eventually paved his road to nonviolence.
I could not get over two facts, both equally difficult for the imagination to grasp, and one was that I could have been murdered. But the other was that I had been ready to commit murder. I saw nothing very clearly but I did see this: that my life, my real life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart.
The collection would have been much better had Baldwin spoken more about himself – his experiences and his struggles and the lessons he learned from life. The book as it was published is way too overwrought and generalizes a problem which can't be generalized (by presuming one 'common' black experience) and thus failed to educate the reader or evoke empathy.
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
556 reviews7,404 followers
October 31, 2014
This collection of essays is a rarity by the fact that every essay is as good as the previous one. There are no duds in this collection. This is by far one of the best collections I've ever read. Baldwin's prose is just so astoundingly beautiful. I may be premature in saying this but I feel that this may be Baldwin's greatest work. A collection so important, so accessible, so unforgettable that not reading this would be an injustice to you and your bookshelf.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
996 reviews1,130 followers
October 29, 2020
“I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

I don’t think I can say much about James Baldwin that hasn’t already been said. I love his work, even if it always seems to leave me heartbroken. I think we need to read him now more than ever, even if I find it infinitely sad that he is as relevant now as he was when his essays were fresh off the press. His writing is lean, insightful and angry. I kept looking at the picture on the cover of my edition, at the young man with crossed arms who looked away from the camera and I wish I could have held him for a moment.

Having read “Go Tell it on the Mountain” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), the titular essay was especially poignant, as it revisits characters and events Baldwin had described in that thinly veiled autobiography. I admire Baldwin’s nuanced reflection about a father that he spent many years hating, while understanding that his father’s behavior had causes that were beyond his control. He stands precariously balanced on the line between compassion and forgiveness and never quite crosses it.

The other essays eloquently describe his experience in Harlem, New Jersey, Paris and a small Swiss village and capture the always uneasy position in which he was. The injustice of the prejudices held against him at every turn sting painfully, and you can’t help but understand his bitterness and his cynicism.

Baldwin had an amazing mind, a razor-sharp intelligence and a stunning gift for writing. This book should be read by everyone.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,462 reviews560 followers
November 25, 2021
[3.7] A sharply observed collection of essays. I found Baldwin's more personal essays, including the title essay, the most potent. All of them comment on race and are still relevant over 70 years later.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
983 reviews363 followers
June 18, 2019
I simply could not relate to the writing style of this book. I found it pedagogical, overly verbose, and repetitive.

I found James Baldwin nihilistic (i.e. depressing). I know there are good reasons for this (racism). Also, I found the writing impersonal, being lectured to from on high.

I have not read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” but as the book was written so long ago it stands to reason that it would be anachronistic. I have read “Native Son” by Richard Wright and found the analysis by James Baldwin overly analytical – a meandering dissertation.

I likely agree with some of what was written; it was the academic and ponderous tone that deterred me.
Profile Image for Sophie.
661 reviews
January 5, 2018
Το πρώτο πράγμα που σημειώνει ο Baldwin στο Autobiographical notes είναι: I was born in Harlem.... Μια απλή και σύντομη φράση που όμως κατατοπίζει πλήρως τον αναγνώστη, κι εκείνον που πρώτη φορά έρχεται σε επαφή με τον συγκεκριμένο συγγραφέα, ως προς τη σημασία που έχει η κληρονομιά και το birthright στο έργο του.
It is difficult to make clear that he is not seeking to forfeit his birthright as a black man, but that, on the contrary, it is precisely this birthright which he is struggling to recignize and make articulate.
Με την ανάληψη των λογοτεχνικών καθηκόντων του ο συγγραφέας οφείλει, σύμφωνα με τον Baldwin, να προσμετρήσει τους παραπάνω παράγοντες στο έργο του, να είναι living proof of his inheritance και να διεκδικήσει το birthright του ως μαύρος. Στην εισαγωγή της έκδοσης του 1984 υπογραμμίζει πως
The conundrum of color is the inheritance of every American, be he/she legally or actually Black or White.
Η γραφή του, ως εκ τούτου, αντανακλά με συνέπεια το αίσθημα της εσωτερικής διαμάχης ενός ανθρώπου που γεννήθηκε στους κόλπους της μαύρης κοινότητας, μιας συντηρητικής, αδέκαστης και ξένης προς τη φροντίδα κοινωνίας, όντας ταυτόχρονα μέρος ενός μεγαλύτερου κόσμου που τον περιθωριοποιεί εν γένει, απορρίπτει τον ψυχισμό του και βασίζει τις αντιδράσεις πάνω στο χρώμα δέρματος του κάθε ανθρώπου.
It is part of the price the Negro pays for his position in this society that, as Richard Wright points out, he is almost always acting. A Negro learns to gauge precisely what reaction the alien person facing him desires, and he produces it with disarming artlessness.
Στο εισαγωγικό κείμενο της συλλογής ο Baldwin ασχολείται και διερευνά το ζήτημα του συγγραφέα, με την αναγκαιότητα να γράφει την αλήθεια για τον κόσμο στον οποίο ζει κι από τον οποίο αφορμάται, να πηγαίνει στην πηγή του προβλήματος, πέρα από την επιφάνεια, και να εξετάζει τις συμπεριφορές, με τη δυσκολία του να είναι μαύρος συγγραφέας όταν το Negro problem δεν αντιμετωπίζεται όπως κατά τη γνώμη του πρέπει.
In the context of the Negro problem neither the whites nor blacks, for excellent reasons of their own, have the fainstest desire to look back; but I think the past is all that makes the present coherent, and further, that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly.
Εντούτοις ο Baldwin διακατέχεται από αξιοσημείωτη και μύχια ανθρωπιά, δεν προβαίνει σε συναισθηματικές υστερίες, ωθεί τον εαυτό του να βρίσκεται στον αντίποδα της πικρίας ως προς τους λευκούς, πικρία που όπως ισχυρίζεται ήταν ο καταλύτης του θανάτου του πατέρα του. Δε διστάζει να κρίνει γνωστά και αγαπημένα έργα ως προβληματικά, μεταξύ άλλων το Uncle Tom's Cabin, για τον υπερβολικό συναισθηματισμό, για την ανειλικρίνεια της απεικόνισης του μαύρου, λέγοντας:
I am not one of the people who believe that oppression imbues a people with wisdom or insight or sweet charity, though the survival of the Negro in this country would simply not have been possible if this bitterness had been all he felt.
Ο Baldwin είναι άνθρωπος της λογοτεχνίας, του λόγου, κατανοεί τη σημασία του να δίνεται και στους λευκούς χαρακτήρες των έργων υπόσταση πλήρως ανεπτυγμένου όντος, υποστηρίζοντας με θέρμη πως
You do not have to fully humanize your black characters by dehumanizing the white ones.

Πέρα από το καφκικού βεληνεκούς επεισόδιο της πολυήμερης φυλάκισής του στο Παρίσι - όταν του δωρήθηκε ένα σεντόνι κλεμμένο, εν αγνοία του, από κάποιο ξενοδοχείο - στο κείμενό του Journey to Atlanta ο λόγος του γίνεται σκωπτικός, πολιτικός, κι η ιστορία είναι ένα προειδοποιητικό διήγημα για μαύρους πολιτικούς και λευκούς ριζοσπαστικούς και φιλελεύθερους, οι οποίοι με αμφιλογίες μεταμφιέζουν έναν πατερναλισμό που βλέπει όλους τους μαύρους ως παιδιά.
The American commonwealth chooses to ovelook what Negroes are never able to forget: they are not really considered a plan of it. Like Aziz in A Passage to India or Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin, they know that white people, whatever their love for justice, have no love for them. This is the crux of the matter.
Το στοιχείο ωστόσο που διαπερνά το κείμενο είναι μάλλον το αισιόδοξο βλέμμα του Baldwin, ακόμη κι όταν εκείνο που περιγράφει είναι η αθλιότητα του να είναι κάποιος μαύρος στην Αμερική. Χρησιμοποιώντας τα λόγια του ανθρώπου που πάνω απ' όλα ήθελε να είναι ειλικρινής άνθρωπος και καλός συγγραφέας:
This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.
Profile Image for Sebastien.
252 reviews287 followers
May 20, 2017
Scorching per usual with Baldwin.

The first essays feature criticism/analysis of the arts, quite interesting but not my favorite part of the book.

The essays on his father (particularly devastating, sad, insightful) and living in France were my favorites. Deeply powerful, moving essays.

His experience with the French justice system (l'affaire du drap de lit) is completely surreal but believable, the epitome of kafkaesque. It is terrifying, he gets sucked into the blackhole of the French prison system because he is wrongly suspected of stealing... a bed sheet. Baldwin weaves in some brilliant humor into this essay, although he is always making serious points through out. Maybe as a French person I found his observations even funnier, but they struck me as pretty accurate and interesting. Plus Baldwin has a great knack for interweaving comedic jabs into his serious observations/ideas. The matter of fact observation pointing out the old man permanently standing next to the communal toilet eating camembert struck me as particularly hilarious because it was so dryly noted and I was like that is so ridiculous it has to be true. Can't get us Frenchies away from our damn camembert even in the vortex of prison.

Baldwin writes with power, precision, perception, coupled with brutal honesty. He crafts and explains his ideas and thinking so well, I love his imagery and flips of language and turns of phrase. His writing is never showboaty although it is extremely finely crafted, no matter how fancy he gets it always serves his purpose in getting a point across (his skill allowing him to zero in on the heart of his themes/ideas with highest degree of nuance and perception). He drills deep down on subjects, amazingly perceptive and startling ability to unravel the complex.

It's sad to know how much pain he suffered, he alludes to the monumental fury and anger he tried to keep tamped down because if he allowed that dam to burst those things would have destroyed him from the inside out. The anger is counterbalanced by his high degree of wit and razor burning sarcasm.

His on point observations on race, identity, white supremacy, the human condition, cultural/societal analysis remain highly relevant to our age.

Cannot wait to read more of his work.
Profile Image for Dagio_maya .
909 reviews256 followers
August 16, 2021

“Io sono ciò che il tempo, le circostanze, la storia, hanno fatto di me, senza dubbio, ma sono anche assai più di questo.
Lo siamo tutti.”

Innanzitutto, confesso che desideravo molto scrivere qualcosa in un giorno così unico.
Come la giri la giri questa data rimane la stessa.
Affascinante quasi come l’invidiabile fedeltà a se stessi.
Una cosa sciocca ma che, personalmente, mi fa pensare alla circolarità di una storia.
La prossima sarà il 29/12/2192 e nessuno di noi può realmente immaginarsi cosa ne sarà della Terra e soprattutto se ci sarà ancora un pianeta con tale nome.
Intanto, viviamo, sopravviviamo sospesi in una parvenza di limbo che ci fa preoccupare per la palese decadenza e, contemporaneamente, ci spinge con forza centripeta ad accendere riflettori che illuminano le nostre piccole vite, ovvero ciò che di più prezioso e concreto abbiamo.

In una data così particolare ho di questi miei pensieri, stuzzicati anche dalla lettura della raccolta di saggi di James Baldwin (1924-1987).

La prima parte di quest’opera mi ha innervosita ma non certo per ciò che ho letto.
Mi sono infastidita perché dopo aver rimandato a lungo questa lettura mi sono ritrovata a leggere analisi molto interessanti di libri (come ad esempio “Paura” di Richard Wright oppure il classico “La capanna dello zio Tom”di Harriet Beecher Stowe) e film (in particolare, “Carmen Jones”, film del ’54, che rivisita la Carmen di Bizet in salsa afroamericana) che non conosco col risultato di non poter cogliere appieno le interessanti analisi che fa Baldwin.

Mi è andata meglio proseguendo dove le riflessioni sono molto spesso autobiografiche ed è proprio il suo retaggio a far sì che, al centro delle sue considerazioni, ci sia il rapporto tra neri e bianchi e la peculiarità con cui questa relazione si concretizza per il popolo americano.

L’esperienza di Baldwin di vita all'estero (Francia e Svizzera in particolare) gli dà la possibilità di osservare da lontano la società statunitense con la sua storia e ragionare sulla propria identità che varcati i confini americani sembra aprirsi a possibilità mai neppure immaginate nel ghetto di Harlem.

Scritti tra il 1949 ed il 1955, questi saggi sono prossimi (ma non ancora coincidenti) con i veri e propri movimenti dei diritti civili.
Eppure queste pagine contengono semi da cui già spuntano i germogli della presa di coscienza che rifiuta non solo la rassegnazione del ruolo subumano ma anche l'idea che l’unica via praticabile sia quella di annullare la propria identità distorcendola a tale punto da diventare copie dell’uomo bianco.

Molto interessanti le pagine che riflettono sulla rabbia di Harlem (”...infruttuosa ma anche inevitabile”) in rivolta ma anche quelle che ci raccontano di un soggiorno in un piccolo villaggio delle Alpi svizzere dove non hanno mai visto un nero:

” Ma c’è una bella differenza tra l’essere il primo uomo bianco visto dagli africani e l’essere il primo uomo nero visto dai bianchi. L’uomo bianco prende la meraviglia come un tributo, perché viene a conquistare e convertire gli indigeni, la cui inferiorità rispetto a lui non va nemmeno messa in discussione; mentre io, senza un disegno di conquista, mi trovo in mezzo a un popolo la cui cultura mi controlla e, in un certo senso, mi ha addirittura creato; un popolo che in angoscia e rabbia mi è costato più di quanto verranno mai a sapere, essi che ancora non sanno nemmeno che esisto. Lo stupore con cui avrei potuto accoglierli, se si fossero imbattuti nel mio villaggio africano qualche centinaio di anni fa, forse avrebbe rallegrato i loro cuori. Mentre lo stupore con cui mi accolgono adesso è solo capace di avvelenare il mio.”

I secoli hanno messo in scena sul suolo statunitense un dramma interrazziale.
Negli anni ’50 però cominciano a defilarsi molti spettatori di questa tragedia: uomini e donne che intendono battersi perché il proprio ruolo nella società non sia più così passivo.

Baldwin sostiene che accanto a questo nuovo nero in scena ci sia anche un nuovo bianco.
Un cambiamento è possibile, tuttavia, solo se ci si volta indietro e si riconosca ed accetti la peculiarità della storia americana che racconta una storia di un indissolubile legame tra i bianchi ed i neri.

Come questa data palindroma che al punto di arrivo si volta indietro
”...io credo che sia proprio il passato l’unica cosa che rende coerente il presente...”
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,133 reviews8,133 followers
May 24, 2022
While I had some issues with this collection as a whole—mainly that it felt quite disjointed, clearly a compilation of previously released work rather than written with a specific purpose as one entity—James Baldwin, even from his earliest days as a writer is striking. You can tell this is his first collection, his first work of published non-fiction, where he is still finding his voice. But amidst all this there are some amazing observations. I particularly liked the sections that were more memoir or reflective of his life experiences which allowed him to ponder larger themes, rather than the essays about media that read more like criticisms/reviews. That's just a personal preference for what I enjoy reading, but even in those essays there was plenty to unpack and this is definitely something I could see myself returning to again, especially after reading more Baldwin to gain more insight.
Profile Image for Lee.
344 reviews8 followers
July 2, 2020
Sublimely eloquent pieces, as usual. I slightly prefer the fiction but Baldwin's is an indispensable voice in all guises.

'(My father) was, I think, very handsome. I gather this from photographs and from my own memories of him, dressed in his Sunday best and on his way to preach a sermon somewhere, when I was little. Handsome, proud, and ingrown, “like a toe-nail,” somebody said. But he looked to me, as I grew older, like pictures I had seen of African tribal chieftains: he really should have been naked, with war-paint on and barbaric mementos, standing among spears. He could be chilling in the pulpit and indescribably cruel in his personal life and he was certainly the most bitter man I have ever met; yet it must be said that there was something else in him, buried in him, which lent him his tremendous power and, even, a rather crushing charm. It had something to do with his blackness, I think—he was very black—with his blackness and his beauty, and with the fact that he knew that he was black but did not know that he was beautiful. He claimed to be proud of his blackness but it had also been the cause of much humiliation and it had fixed bleak boundaries to his life. He was not a young man when we were growing up and he had already suffered many kinds of ruin; in his outrageously demanding and protective way he loved his children, who were black like him and menaced, like him; and all these things sometimes showed in his face when he tried, never to my knowledge with any success, to establish contact with any of us. When he took one of his children on his knee to play, the child always became fretful and began to cry; when he tried to help one of us with our homework the absolutely unabating tension which emanated from him caused our minds and our tongues to become paralyzed, so that he, scarcely knowing why, flew into a rage and the child, not knowing why, was punished. If it ever entered his head to bring a surprise home for his children, it was, almost unfailingly, the wrong surprise and even the big watermelons he often brought home on his back in the summertime led to the most appalling scenes. I do not remember, in all those years, that one of his children was ever glad to see him come home. From what I was able to gather of his early life, it seemed that this inability to establish contact with other people had always marked him and had been one of the things which had driven him out of New Orleans. There was something in him, therefore, groping and tentative, which was never expressed and which was buried with him. One saw it most clearly when he was facing new people and hoping to impress them. But he never did, not for long. We went from church to smaller and more improbable church, he found himself in less and less demand as a minister, and by the time he died none of his friends had come to see him for a long time. He had lived and died in an intolerable bitterness of spirit and it frightened me, as we drove him to the graveyard through those unquiet, ruined streets, to see how powerful and overflowing this bitterness could be and to realize that this bitterness now was mine.'
Profile Image for Sofia.
1,144 reviews194 followers
May 24, 2016

I was racking my brains trying to come up with the words that will show you who Baldwin is, what he writes. Then I said, “You’re silly my girl, you can of course let him speak for himself”.

What he has to say on seeing reality and working with it. How the present is a result of the past and how by denying the past, we deny the reality of us.
It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one’s own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair.

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster”

“Or, to put it another way, my inheritance was particular, specifically limited and limiting: my birthright was vast, connecting me to all that lives, and to everyone, forever. But one cannot claim the birthright without accepting the inheritance. Therefore, when I began, seriously, to write—when I knew I was committed, that this would be my life—I had to try to describe that particular condition which was—is—the living proof of my inheritance. And, at the same time, with that very same description, I had to claim my birthright. I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.”

His observations of humanity are spot on and humanity does not change that much that his observations become irrelevant. This is what he said on his 1984 preface about this book which was published back in 1949.
"It is not pleasant to be forced to recognize, more than thirty years later, that neither this dynamic nor this necessity have changed. There have been superficial changes, with results at best ambiguous and, at worst, disastrous. Morally, there has been no change at all and a moral change is the only real one. “Plus ça change,” groan the exasperated French (who should certainly know), “plus c’est le même chose.” (The more it changes, the more it remains the same.) At least they have the style to be truthful about it."

And I will end with quoting Lessing a quote Baldwin chose to end his preface with:
“And,” says Doris Lessing, in her preface to African Stories, “while the cruelties of the white man toward the black man are among the heaviest counts in the indictment against humanity, colour prejudice is not our original fault, but only one aspect of the atrophy of the imagination that prevents us from seeing ourselves in every creature that breathes under the sun.”

Another stop in my Baldwin Journey with Maya.

Profile Image for Joshua Rigsby.
193 reviews54 followers
August 21, 2017
The titular essay in this collection is phenomenal, one of the best I've ever read. It deals with race (as nearly everything from Baldwin does), but also the severely personal and complicated relationship that Baldwin has with both his father and his own identity. Everything is stirred into this smoking wok of anger and regret that is unlike anything I've ever read. It is amazing.

The rest of the pieces fail to reach the height of "Notes of a Native Son." Many of them are cultural criticism that is largely meaningless unless you are familiar with the book or movie Baldwin is citing. The diction in the earlier pieces strain for a kind of unnecessary erudition, almost as though Baldwin is trying to prove how eloquent he is. The latter pieces relax a little, and he is able to communicate confidently.

There is plenty to learn from here, in no small part due to Baldwin's honesty. Read it.
Profile Image for Jesse.
435 reviews419 followers
March 16, 2017
Read with a group of friends in conjunction with a viewing of the Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro . Experiencing both film and essay collection in tandem, what kept coming to mind over and over was Jan Kott’s influential phrase “Shakespeare, our contemporary,” which forwards the idea that every generation discovers some aspect of the Bard that seems to speak specifically and almost peculiarly to them, making him feel continuously contemporaneous. Well, I couldn’t get the revised phrase “James Baldwin, our contemporary” out of my mind, as thirty years after his passing his work continues to thunder with the blistering, clear-throated immediacy as if being issued this very moment from twitter or a blog.

Certainly, some of the specific topics of analysis are specifically of its era, and the terminology is very much of its time as well. But Baldwin was an intersectional thinker—able to recognize how race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality, etc are all inextricably intertwined—long before the term became a term to toss about in internet think pieces, lending a suppleness to his ideas that allow them to be easily, often uncannily transposed to our current moment. The appearance of Raoul Peck’s long-awaited documentary at the end of 2016 couldn’t have occurred at a more apt moment: we need Baldwin more than ever.

I still generally prefer Baldwin the fiction writer to Baldwin the essayist, but just as a large source of the power of his novels lie in their autobiographical inflection, it is the pieces in this collection that are most autobiographical that were for me the strongest (my favorites being title essay, “Stranger in a Village,” and “Journey to Atlanta”). Trying to think through larger social/political/cultural issues by offering up one’s subjective experiences as a lens is nothing new in critical writing, and has become more or less ubiquitous now, but few have ever been able to it as convincingly or with as much intricacy or nuance as Baldwin.

Was essential then, is essential now.

“One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.”
Profile Image for Michael Livingston.
795 reviews246 followers
June 3, 2020
This is a wonderful collection - smart, funny, incisive cultural criticism; long, thoughtful pieces about being a black American in 1950s Paris and a some stunning essays about the US (although all of the essays are fundamentally about race in America). The title essay in particular is spectacular, but the whole book is really great.
Profile Image for Magda.
58 reviews37 followers
November 6, 2021
Nadal aktualne Panie Baldwin :((
Profile Image for Miroku Nemeth.
267 reviews57 followers
February 22, 2013
I just finished James Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son" yesterday. Published in 1955, it has lost none of its relevance on many levels, and one of these is his argument that the representations of African Americans in and through literature and in movies and the role in which devices such as the "protest novel" are used to assuage liberal guilt and really do not bring about true societal change and instead foster a false sense of understanding and identification that still maintains the "otherness" of the group whose problems or issues are addressed in the work. Baldwin sometime goes on tirades that are not always perhaps balanced but he interrogates issues so passionately and thoroughly and unconventionally that he really makes you think deeply about the gap between professed understanding and experienced reality.

I think of this because I teach many African American works of literature to predominantly non-African American students whose backgrounds vary in understanding of issues of race, class, etc. And there is also the issue of racism itself--not as a personal issue alone, for almost all Americans can repeat the platitudes and provide anecdotes as to why they are not racist--but few truly understand institutional racism. Their minds go blank when you make the shift in discourse and you can see it on many white people's faces. And so it is with many issues of social justice and oppression that do not conform to the conventional model of discourse.

I say this because it is actually a struggle to try and teach on these issues in all their complexity and basic reality, perhaps even more so now that Obama is president because this phenomena is misunderstood so deeply on many sides of the racial divide.

Just some reflections prompted, in part, by this reading. I think it is instructive to look at Malcolm's position relative to white liberals--while he felt that it was better that the "conservative" wolf at least told you who he was straight up, the liberal "fox" should be seen as just as dangerous. This said, he saw great potential in young white college students and others who sincerely wanted change, and he mentions this clearly in his Autobiography.

There is, essentially, a very difficult problem in determining who "speaks" for a "people" and what the true limits of that speech are--many, many voices are disconnected from the grass roots, while still others, sometimes as demagogues, shape them.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,589 reviews191 followers
February 24, 2021
Each of the short essays in this collection made incisive comments on American culture and its relationship with race. I wanted to highlight particularly trenchant statements (or paragraphs) but realized that much of this book would be marked up. So much of what Baldwin said in these essays is depressingly still current, in many cases.
Profile Image for Ta.
345 reviews17 followers
February 20, 2020
Na pewno warto Baldwina przeczytać. Ale w próbie zrozumienia, co oznacza być Czarnym w Ameryce bardziej pomógł mi reportaż "Czarny jak ja" Griffina i wspomnienia Margo Jefferson "Negroland". Przy czym nadal to zrozumienie pozostaje próbą, a nie zrozumieniem.
Pierwsze dwa eseje w "Zapiskach..." dotyczą afroamerykańskiej literatury i bez znajomości omawianych powieści brnięcie przez nie wydaje mi się bezcelowa. Natomiast dalsze rozdziały dla osób, które po raz pierwszy stykają się z tematyką wykluczenia czarnoskórych w USA przedstawianą z punktu widzenia samych zainteresowanych, na pewno będą lekturą skłaniającą do refleksji.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
425 reviews39 followers
January 13, 2019
4.5 stars -- Mind blown. What an intellect! Baldwin lit my brain, and these essays are STILL powerfully relevant. He defined things I've struggled to understand since attending a "desegregated" high school decades ago. Boy, did I appreciate this read. And what an appropriate preamble to America's upcoming MLK Day and Black History Month.
Profile Image for Wojciech Szot.
Author 16 books1,065 followers
March 27, 2020
Baldwin! Jak ja tego faceta kocham za “Mojego Giovanniego”, zwłaszcza od kiedy przeczytałem książkę w oryginale i odkryłem, że polskie tłumaczenie (Andrzeja Selerowicza) do profesjonalnych nie należało. Ale takie były czasy - książkę wydano w 1991 roku na fali odwilży i ukazywania się w Polsce książek do tej pory funkcjonujących w obiegach towarzyskich. A jest to powieść wybitna, grająca na wielu rejestrach, z pewnością jedna z najważniejszych książek emancypacyjnych, I choć dzisiaj pewnie bym się trochę zżymał na zbyt oczywiste przesłanie, to wspominam ją jako lekturę ważną dla własnego dojrzewania. Ale nie o “Giovanni’s room” dzisiaj, a o wydanym przez Karakter zbiorze esejów “Zapiski syna tego kraju” (tłum. Mikołaj Denderski). Wigilię spędziłem z Baldwinem.

Książka składa się z trzech krótkich cykli, w pierwszej części Baldwin opowiada o książkach i filmach, w których (pamiętajmy, że pisze to w połowie lat 50.) portretowani są “Murzyni” (konsekwentnie w książce posługujemy się tym słowem, zatem w recenzji też je zastosuję) i dokonuje ich dość ciekawej, ale nie porywającej analizy. Niestety ma autor skłonność do rozciągania jednej myśli na kilka stron i krążenia wokół niej niekoniecznie atrakcyjnymi piruetami. Oczywiście to ciekawe przyjrzeć się jak czarny pisarz widzi po latach “Chatę wuja Toma” czy “Syna swego kraju” Wrighta, dostrzegając w nich opowieści tylko pozornie emancypacyjne, będące dla białych swoistym rozgrzeszeniem rasistowskiej polityki, ale czytane po latach, zwłaszcza gdy możemy chociaż zerknąć do tego, co o amerykańskiej polityce wobec “Murzynów” pisze Adichie, Obioma czy - wcześniej - Achebe, stanowią raczej wartość dobrego przypisu. Dodatkowo momentami trudno je w polskiej rzeczywistości zrozumieć, bo zwyczajnie Baldwin odwołuje się do wielu tytułów nigdy u nas nieobecnych, no ale to zawsze można nadrobić. Analiza filmu “Carmen Jones” na podstawie “Carmen” Bizeta, gdzie wszyscy bohaterowie i bohaterki są czarne byłaby ciekawa (Baldwin wykazuje na przykład, że dobre postaci z filmu mają jednak jaśniejszą cerę), gdyby nie narzekanie na naiwność i prostotę treści filmu, bez odniesienia się do oryginału i przy pewnym chyba braku rozumienia, a przynajmniej refleksji nad operową konwencją.

Pozornie intrygująca wydaje się trzecia część książki, w której Baldwin opisuje swój pobyt na paryskiej uczelni i amerykańską diasporę studencką, jednak podobnie jak w pierwszej części miałem wrażenie, że Baldwin opowiada cały czas to samo, a jego tezy nie są szczególnie odkrywcze (pozorna wspólnota ekspatów, zachwyt i rozczarowanie kulturą francuską, różnice pomiędzy Murzynem ze Stanów a tym z krajów kolonialnych).

Najciekawiej wypada Baldwin w esejach, które korzystają z autobiograficznego doświadczenia i zamieniają się niepostrzeżenie w opowiadania. W części “paryskiej” znajdziemy historię aresztowania Baldwina za paserstwo, ale mistrzostwem jednak tytułowy esej-opowiadanie “Zapiski syna tego kraju”. Umieranie ojca autora zbiegło się z narodzinami jego siostry. Odchodzenie świata, który wyrastał prosto z niewolniczych korzeni i nadchodzenie nowego jest tu pretekstem do intrygującej opowieści o emancypacji Murzynów, ich wewnętrznym skonfliktowaniu i próbą pokazania, że rasizm zrodził nienawiść do białych, którą wszyscy Murzyni podzielają, choć oficjalnie niewiele osób się do tego przyznaje. To bardzo ostre i mocno zero-jedynkowe tezy, z którymi można się pewnie było sprzeczać, ale nie można odmówić Baldwinowi szczerości i - przy odrobinę zaczepnej formie - odwagi.

Niestety w tomie znajduje się tylko krótki fragment dotyczący relacji czarnych Amerykanów do Żydów. Słynne stwierdzenie Baldwina, że “Murzyni są antysemitami, bo są ‘antybiali’��� i jego artykuły, w których analizował odwrócony rasizm w postaci czarnego antysemityzmu ukazywały się kilka lat po tym zbiorze, a krótki passus poświęcony tej kwestii w “Zapiskach…” z pewnością wymagałby obszerniejszego omówienia. Wzmiankowany esej znajdziecie na stronach “NYTimesa”, warto wyguglać.

Mam jednak niedosyt po tej publikacji. Wydawnictwo Karakter wydało książkę będącą jednym z pierwszych w ogóle dzieł Baldwina, który był zapalonym polemistą i eseistą jeszcze przez dziesiątki lat i niektóre obecne tu koncepcje przepracowywał, rozpisywał na powieści czy wystąpienia w prasie. Po angielsku większość esejów Baldwina została wydana w 1985 roku w tomie “The Price of the Ticket” i kibicuję, by kiedyś kolejne jego eseje się u nas ukazały, bo jest tam jeszcze wiele perełek, ważnych dla zrozumienia tego, co autor chciał powiedzieć w niektórych momentach “Zapisków…” Dzięki filmowi i książce “Gdyby ulica Beale umiała mówić” James Baldwin powoli wraca do łask wydawców, co bardzo cieszy, zatem jakbym miał zamawiać to poproszę o nowe tłumaczenie “Giovanni’s room”. A póki co zachęcam byście zajrzeli do “Zapisków…” choćby po ten jeden, tytułowy esej.

No i ta okładka - Przemek Dębowski może z naszych hołdów skomponować sobie osobną książkę już, no ale co ja na to poradzę - facet, robisz to jak nikt inny!
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