Giovanni's Room

Cover of book Giovanni's Room
Categories: Fiction

”You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.”

Let me preface this by saying I believe this book was and is very important. For James Baldwin t


o write a story that focuses on a young American grappling with his sexuality, masculinity ideals, gender expectations and culture norms is commendable. Writing this story in 1956 was an act of bravery.

But that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. It’s fully possible to understand the importance of something and still not appreciate the execution. I understand that our narrator, David, spends most of his life confused about his sexuality and what sort of life he wants. But throughout the story we only see David discussing his feelings. We don’t see how his relationship with Hella developed, how any of his friendships formed, and even though we are shown the night he met Giovanni we still don’t see the relationship. His emotions are volatile and he can’t seem to nail down how he feels, but instead of showing any of this, we simply see David describe and list his feelings in increasingly conflicting manners.

This is further complicated because much of the story is told out of order. So the David relaying the story often has different thoughts and emotions than the David living the situation. But instead of indicating character development, this feels disjointed and confusing.

There’s also a dollop of period-era misogyny with quotes such as:

”These absurd women running around today, full of ideas and nonsense and thinking themselves equal to men...they need to be beaten half to death so they can discover who rules the world.”

And there’s a ton to be said about gay-male misogyny (esp circa 1950) and its ties to masculinity ideals... but the text never goes there? These quotes and opinions are just sort of thrown in the mix to further confuse David and complicate the sexuality and gender discussion. But there was already more than enough going on that already felt murky and confusing.

Maybe it’s because I’m not from the era this book was written for. Maybe I lack the context. But most of this felt like a jumble of important topics.

Giovanni's Room
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