Cheryl's Reviews > Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
11255849
's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: vintage, america, african-american, europe, the-psyche, mesmerizing, french-oeuvre, fav-authors

Then the door is before him. There is darkness all around him, there is silence in him. Then the door opens and he stands alone, the whole world falling away from him. And the brief corner of the sky seems to be shrieking, though he does not hear a sound. Then the earth tilts, he is thrown forward on his face in darkness, and his journey begins.

Sometimes you read a book and you suddenly find yourself hijacked by a form of spellbinding intensity that spews from a participant narrator. You're pulled into the room, Giovanni's Room, and you soon find yourself emotionally involved with David's mental battle. You may not even like David, or like the way he treats people (his fiancee and his lover ), and yet, you're with him, rooting for him during his most piercing revelations. You even have sympathy for his dilemmas and meanders. But why is this?

Blame Baldwin. Blame it on his hypnotic lyricism and pure poignancy that entraps the reader. Blame it on his story of self-conflict and melancholy, of reflection and remorse, of truth and lies and anything that embeds itself within the fabric of a life marred by deceit. Blame it on the forthrightness of a narrator whose words you follow intently:
I remember that life in that room seemed to be occurring beneath the sea. Time flowed past indifferently above us; hours and days had no meaning. In the beginning, our life together held a joy and amazement which was newborn every day. Beneath the joy, of course, was anguish and beneath the amazement was fear; but they did not work themselves to the beginning until our high beginning was aloes on our tongues.

The story starts in the present tense, with David (our narrator) reflecting on his life with Giovanni, his male lover. The story starts and you immediately sense that something has gone wrong, that you are at the cusp of what seems to be romantic tragedy, because David is embittered with remorse, regret and self-loathe: "people are too various to be treated so lightly. I am too various to be trusted." And then the story veers to the past tense, when David tells us the story from Giovanni's Room, a setting that was once the center of his life. He feels responsible for Giovanni's fate (as he narrates Giovanni is in prison), and he feels responsible for breaking his fiancee's(Hella) heart.

David has come a long way, from New York to Paris, to avoid the conflict taking place within him. He is a gay man who wants to have a wife and a family. He is a gay man who wants to be accepted by society. He is a motherless gay son who wants to be accepted by his father:
A cavern opened in my mind, black, full of rumor, suggestion, of half-heard, half-forgotten, half-understood stories, full of dirty words. I thought I saw my future in that cavern. I was afraid. I could have cried, cried for shame and terror, cried for not understanding how this could have happened to me, how this could have happened in me.

David's story of self-actualization is told in such a way that makes it relatable; to think of this vast world of ever-changing spectrum and to wonder wherein one can really find oneself. In this case, an American in Paris, a gay man in a conservative society, a young man figuring out his sexuality - the mistakes that accompany such awakenings.

Reading this book, I was reminded of the sort of picture I yearned for in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and while the setting, mood, and even some themes are reminiscent of The American by Henry James, what Baldwin does better is introduce characters only as they move the story forward, as a result, you see these characters more clearly. I can only imagine why this masterly written novel did not get more publicity, but the answer I come up with saddens me, for this is a transcendent piece of art that seems to be one of Baldwin's more poignant pieces.
When one begins to search for the crucial, the definitive moment, the moment which changed all others, one finds oneself pressing, in great pain, through a maze of false signals and abruptly locking doors.
66 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Giovanni's Room.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

August 17, 2014 – Shelved (Other Paperback Edition)
January 13, 2015 – Started Reading
January 13, 2015 – Shelved
January 15, 2015 –
page 40
22.73% "When one begins to search for the crucial, the definitive moment, the moment which changed all others, one finds oneself pressing, in great pain, through a maze of false signals and abruptly locking doors."
January 16, 2015 –
page 75
42.61% "It takes strength to remember,it takes another kind of strength to forget, takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence;people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget.Heroes are rare"
January 16, 2015 –
page 176
100.0% "And I look at my body, which is under sentence of death. It is lean, hard, and cold, the incarnation of a mystery. And I do not know what moves in this body, what this body is searching. It is trapped in my mirror as it is trapped in time and it hurries toward revelation."
January 16, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-38 of 38 (38 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Natalie Richards what a review, look forward to reading this :)


Cheryl Natalie wrote: "what a review, look forward to reading this :)"

Hi Natalie. I love lyrical simplicity in storytelling. This is a good one to add. Happy reading :)


Natalie Richards Will let you know when I get to it, will have to order it from the library :-)


message 4: by Garima (new)

Garima Hypnotic lyricism indeed! I loved his writing in The Fire next time and looking forward to read this book soon. Beautiful review!


message 5: by Lynda (new) - added it

Lynda Wow! Love this Cheryl. So want to read this. On my list it goes.


Debbie "DJ" Beautiful review! On the list it goes. :)


Cheryl Garima wrote: "Hypnotic lyricism indeed! I loved his writing in The Fire next time and looking forward to read this book soon. Beautiful review!"

Thanks, Garima :) I'm torn between reading that one and If Beale Street Could Talk and Going to Meet the Man. So many choices! I've studied most of his nonfiction and read some fiction, but this year I really want to explore his fiction. Then again, I want to explore so many authors and their works...


Cheryl Lynda wrote: "Wow! Love this Cheryl. So want to read this. On my list it goes."

Ha, as if you don't already have so many lined up right? :) Have fun reading, when you can get to it!


Cheryl Debbie "DJ" wrote: "Beautiful review! On the list it goes. :)"

Thanks, Debbie! This is a beautiful one. I hope you enjoy reading it :)


message 10: by Margitte (new)

Margitte wonderful, review, Cheryl !


message 11: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Great review. So much feeling. I've noticed lately your reviews are very introspective and I must tell you I really like it. You are one of the reviewers I've always enjoyed but even more so. I don't read reviews to always learn about a book pre or post read. I read a lot for the sheer entertainment and enjoyment of the readers sharing the book experience. So this being said, I adore not just the summary of the book but discussion of what was moving and memorable. These things at times encourage me to read a book more than a regurgitation of the book jacket. Please continue to share my Bookbuddy. I've always wanted to read this and now when I come across it, I definitely will pick it up.


message 12: by Margitte (new)

Margitte I agree with Debbie. Your reviews are so passionate and personal. I love that about them. You are a great reviewer, Cheryl.


message 13: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· A very moving review, Cheryl. Inspiring.


message 14: by Margaret (new) - added it

Margaret And I third what Debbie writes above. Your reviews are inspiring. "Blame Baldwin" What a great way to say you're under the sway of the master writer. As we all are.


Cheryl Debbie wrote: "Great review. So much feeling. I've noticed lately your reviews are very introspective and I must tell you I really like it. You are one of the reviewers I've always enjoyed but even more so. I don..."

I've always felt like book reading here on GR should be all about one reader's experience and not about what everyone thinks of a book, so I feel honored that you feel the way you do when you read mine, Debbie. I always enjoy your witty and candid reviews as well so please keep bringing me your experiences also, bookbuddy :)


message 16: by Debbie (new)

Debbie I couldn't agree more! I love hearing about the experience. The movement. The inner thoughts. I'm glad you enjoy mine as well. I always love feeling like I've finished a book and we're sitting over coffee saying" So let me tell you about this book I just finished."

Happy reading! ;0)


Cheryl @Margitte - Thanks, Margitte. I'm glad you enjoyed reading.
@Karen - Karen, it's always a pleasure to see your encouraging comments.
@ Margaret - Yes, I was swayed by the mastery. Thanks, Margaret. Always lovely to read your thoughts :-)


Nidhi Singh Beautiful review, Cheryl! Its been a few years since I read this and I am still haunted by David's story. This book made Baldwin a very special writer for me.


message 19: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Cheryl, you make this very attractive... I am drawn by the switch in narrative tenses... I have never read any Baldwin. May be I should start with this one.


Cheryl Nidhi wrote: "Beautiful review, Cheryl! Its been a few years since I read this and I am still haunted by David's story. This book made Baldwin a very special writer for me."

Haunted, yes. David's story is one that stays with you. Thanks, Nidhi!


Cheryl Kalliope wrote: "Cheryl, you make this very attractive... I am drawn by the switch in narrative tenses... I have never read any Baldwin. May be I should start with this one."

I kept flipping back through the book to decipher the structure, Kalliope. It was so brief and seamless, the switch, that it could be easily missed. The book was narrated from his house, on the day he was leaving--hence the seamless switch from present to past. Thanks, Kalliope.


message 22: by Himanshu (new) - added it

Himanshu No better way to sell a book, Cheryl. Your reviews are always convincing and passionate, and the prose speaks for itself. I'll start with this one when I start with Baldwin.


Cheryl Himanshu wrote: "No better way to sell a book, Cheryl. Your reviews are always convincing and passionate, and the prose speaks for itself. I'll start with this one when I start with Baldwin."

I'm glad you think the prose speaks for itself, Himanshu. I wanted to add quotes so that people see and feel what I did--the mastery of wordplay. Thanks for stopping by with your encouraging comments, as usual. This book stunned me so much, I almost didn't write a review, because I didn't know where to start. So thanks for letting me know that writing one was indeed worthwhile :)


message 24: by Annie (new) - added it

Annie Oh! I totally get what you mean. I haven't been able to suss out my review of Animal Farm for exactly the same reason.
Beautifully written. It's been sitting on my bookshelf a while. Time to pat the dust off and, as you put it - enter the room!


Cheryl Annie wrote: "Oh! I totally get what you mean. I haven't been able to suss out my review of Animal Farm for exactly the same reason.
Beautifully written. It's been sitting on my bookshelf a while. Time to pat..."


Ha! Yes, sometimes a book will leave you wondering where to start and explain it...


message 26: by Dolors (last edited Jan 21, 2015 12:53AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dolors I keep missing your reviews Cheryl but oh, the bliss of checking out your profile and bumping into a review that contains a passage like this:

"Blame Baldwin. Blame it on his hypnotic lyricism and pure poignancy that entraps the reader. Blame it on his story of self-conflict and melancholy, of reflection and remorse, of truth and lies and anything that embeds itself within the fabric of a life marred by deceit."

A paragraph that so masterfully defines Baldwin's hypnotic and sensuous prose, which, coincidentally, I just met in his first novel Go Tell It on the Mountain. I find it fascinating that I recognize themes, style and a voice that sounds so true having read only a few pages into the first part of that book and even more incredible that you pack so much in your concise and sharply delineated reviews. Simply glorious Cheryl, thank you.


Cheryl Dolors wrote: "I keep missing your reviews Cheryl but oh, the bliss of checking out your profile and bumping into a review that contains a passage like this:

"Blame Baldwin. Blame it on his hypnotic lyricism and..."


And here I was wondering, "Where is Dolors?" :) I'm so glad to see you're reading "Go Tell It on the Mountain" because I just dug it up and hope to read/reread it soon. His prose is enticing and sensuous, as you put it, so I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Thanks for the wonderful statement, Dolors.


message 28: by Nicole~ (new) - added it

Nicole~ Lovely, Cheryl. Time for more Baldwin!


Cheryl Nicole~ wrote: "Lovely, Cheryl. Time for more Baldwin!"

Yay! I said the same thing to myself. I've already started rearranging my reads in order to accompany more Baldwin:)


Jeffrey Keeten Wonderful, wonderful review! I'm luxuriating in the bright rays of those five stars. I'm so glad you liked this book.


Cheryl Jeffrey wrote: "Wonderful, wonderful review! I'm luxuriating in the bright rays of those five stars. I'm so glad you liked this book."

Thanks, Jeffrey! I shelf my GR shelves like I do the ones at home, so this book sits on the five-star shelf, face forward, to be easily grabbed when I need to revisit a quick passage (I do that a lot for 5-star ratings, reread scenes I mean). I can't wait to read all that Baldwin has to offer.


message 32: by Taylor (new)

Taylor You truly have a knack for making me want to rush out to the library and pull things off shelves. This is another book I've long been hearing good things about, and am feeling I need to pull off my stacks soon. I want to nominate this for my short reads book club, but will probably try to read it very soon, either way.


Cheryl Taylor wrote: "You truly have a knack for making me want to rush out to the library and pull things off shelves. This is another book I've long been hearing good things about, and am feeling I need to pull off my..."

Thanks, Taylor :) Gotta say: this one will be GREAT for a group read. Short, to the point, and the pacing is just right. You'll love this!


message 34: by Taylor (new)

Taylor Cheryl wrote: "Thanks, Taylor :) Gotta say: this one will be GREAT for a group read. Short, to the point, and the pacing is just right. You'll love this! "

It sounds like it! I nominated Notes of a Native Son and they voted for something else that month, but I'm going to keep trying to get some Baldwin in.


message 35: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted Really enjoyed the review the first time I saw it, Cheryl. Now I've _book_ _maked_ it.


Cheryl You always manage to stop by periodically and give me a reason to smile, Ted :) Thank you!


Rowena Blame Baldwin. Blame it on his hypnotic lyricism and pure poignancy that entraps the reader. Blame it on his story of self-conflict and melancholy, of reflection and remorse, of truth and lies and anything that embeds itself within the fabric of a life marred by deceit.

I adore the above quote. Awesome review, Cheryl!


Cheryl Rowena wrote: " Blame Baldwin. Blame it on his hypnotic lyricism and pure poignancy that entraps the reader. Blame it on his story of self-conflict and melancholy, of reflection and remorse, of truth and lies and..."

Thanks, Rowena! :-)

P.S.: I just left you a message re "The Blue Books."


back to top