Saturday, 26 September 2015

SOAKED IN THE BIBLE AND THE BLUES


"I had to deal with what hurt me most. I had to deal with my father." - James Baldwin

Baldwin's first novel Go Tell It on the Mountain is heavily based on the his own life growing up as a preacher's son. The novel explores the fragile relationship between the Christian and God, but also the difficulties black Americans faced just trying to live, and love. Wrapped around all of this is an unabashed exploration of the intense, and oppressive relationship between stepfather and stepson.

Though centred around the church, it's the tales of love, and heart shattering loss that stayed with me. It's the fight for the black man/woman's right to simply walk down the street, or drink coffee in a cafe, or visit a museum without facing abuse that moved me. And it's the understanding of how the position of a black person in America dictated every part of their life that broke my heart. The glass ceiling not only limited their ability to prosper financially, but ended up leaking down to every aspect of their lives, until it destroyed their perception of themselves, as well as their relationships with others. 

Honest to God I cried at least half a dozen times while reading this! It's 256 pages of pure emotion, and every page is a piece of the puzzle in a character's story. 

The novel is divided into three parts. The first and last are centred around the life of 14 year old John, an inquisitive and passionate boy. Darkened with sadness at a young and tender age. The questions that are asked in his sections are answered in the second. This section is again split into three, with each part telling us the story of John's aunt (Florence), John's father (Gabriel), and Johns mother (Elizabeth). 

I couldn't stop crying when I read Elizabeth's tale. I think I'm going to remember her story for a long time.

James Baldwin writes like... like he is spinning his words into magic. There were some parts that I couldn't not read out loud. Out loud and slowly, savouring every word, and letting the meaning and emotion of it all sink in. 

There was only one part of the novel that completely went over my head, and that was in the third section when John was in the process of being 'saved' by God. But I think those pages were supposed to be utterly perplexing, because they reflected John's mental state at the time. 

Go Tell It on the Mountain played on all my emotions. It's an intense experience. Baldwin was a truly truly gifted writer with a LOT of important and challenging things to say. He was brave, and fierce, and had a beautiful soul. If I could only write like him one day. If I could only write like him. 

'A beautiful, enduring, spiritual song of a novel... soaked in the Bible and the blues.' - Andrew O'Hagan



Have you guys read anything by Baldwin? What did you think of his work?
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