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Giovanni's Room

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  • Posted September 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Ian Young points out the novel portrays homosexuality and bisexuality as uncomfortable and uncertain ways of living, respectively.

    Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, 1956

    Plot summary:

    Part one

    David remembers his first experience with a boy, Joey, who lived in Brooklyn, too. The two bonded and eventually had a sexual encounter during a sleepover. The two boys began kissing and making love; the next day David left, and a little later he took to bullying Joey in order to feel like a real man.

    David now lives with his father, who is prone to drinking, and his aunt, Ellen. The latter upbraids the father for not setting himself as a good example to his son; David's father says that all he wants is for David to become a real man. Later David comes home drinking too, and drinks and drives once, ending up in an accident. Back home the two men talk, and David talks his father into letting him skip college and get a job instead. He then decides to move to France to find himself.

    After a year in Paris, penniless, he calls Jacques, an older homosexual acquaintance, to meet him for supper and ask for money. In a flashforward, Jacques and David meet again and talk about Giovanni's fall. Back into the plot line, the two men go to Guillaume's gay bar. They meet Giovanni, the new bartender, whom Jacques tries to make a pass at, until he gets talking with Guillaume. Meanwhile, David and Giovanni become friends. Later, they all go to a restaurant in Les Halles; Jacques enjoins David not to be ashamed to feel love; they eat oysters and drink white wine. Giovanni recounts how he met Guillaume in a cinema, how the two men had dinner together because Giovanni wanted a free meal. He also explains that Guillaume is prone to making trouble. Later, the two men go back to Giovanni's room and they have sex.

    Part two

    David moves into Giovanni's small room. They broach the subject of Hella, about whom Giovanni is not worried, but who reveals the Italian's misogynistic prejudices about women and the need for men to dominate them. David then briefly describes Giovanni's room, which is always in the dark because there are no curtains and they need their own privacy. He goes on to read a letter from his father, asking him to go back to America, but he does not want to do that. A subsequent letter from Hella announces that she is returning in a few days, and David realizes he has to part with Giovanni soon. Setting off to prove to himself that he is not gay, David searches for a woman with whom he can have sex. He meets a slight acquaintance, Sue, in a bar and they go back to her place and have sex; he does not want to see her again and has only just used her to feel better about himself. When he returns to the room, David finds a hysterical Giovanni, who has been fired from Guillaume's bar.

    Hella eventually comes back and David leaves Giovanni's room with no notice for three days. He sends a letter to his father asking for money marrying Hella. The couple then walks into Jacques and Giovanni in a bookshop, which makes Hella uncomfortable because she does not like Jacques's mannerisms. After walking Hella back to her hotel room, David goes to Giovanni's room to talk; the Italian man is distressed. David thinks that they cannot have a life together and feels that he would be sacrificing his manhood if he stays with Giovanni. He leaves, but runs into Giovanni several times and is upset by the "fairy" mannerisms which he is developing and his new relationship with Jacques, who is an older and richer man. Sometime later, David walks into Yves and finds out Giovanni is

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2004

    Soul-searing and absolutely fantastic

    I cannot even begin to express what this book means to me. James Baldwin stole my soul when I read it. He's wonderful. I just happened upon it during a time in my life when I was confused and didn't know what to do, and this book (believe it or not) helped me cope with my choices. It was so incredibly realistic and intense, and utterly heart-wrenching, I couldn't put it down. It was exactly what I needed. I could identify with the main characters so easily (oh David, you are my muse. How did I ever live without you?), and they just suck you right into their lives. I adore this book beyond compare. It's a must read. Go read it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2011

    Heartbreaking...In a Good Way

    I've read this book three times, and each time brings out a new feeling toward the characters. David(the narrator), is not someone who is easy to like. He is homophobic(despite falling in love with a man), and often cruel to those he cares about. Giovanni also evokes mixed feelings. One minute he is charming, and the next he is a whining mess. Even while you hate them, Baldwin has a way to tear at your heart and wish the ending was different. This isn't a gay lovestory. This is the story of a man who is afraid of love, and a man who falls in love too easily. I recommend it to everyone.

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  • Posted October 7, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Breathtaking

    Amazing book. He is a pioneer!

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  • Posted December 28, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Tragic Love Stories

    This book was greatly written and showed some true cruelities but realities of the cold world.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2008

    So sad

    James Baldwin is my fav author of any time . But i tyhought this was one of his best books . All his book are soo good that you never want to put them down . When i read this i thought poor Giovanni and his lover . I really recommened this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2007

    Humanity at its finest

    Baldwin¿s portrayal of the human condition and the fluidity of sexuality is so compassionate and so very tender that the reader walks away with not only a genius story, but also a clearer conception of our own selves. The foreboding, suffocating confines of Giovanni¿s room is a metaphor for not only the gay population, but also for any individual who feels claustrophobic in their own life/relationship. James Baldwin seems to be not only a masterful writer, but someone who understood much more than we ever will. Giovanni¿s Room is a gem of a novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2006

    Powerful

    Giovanni's Room is a powerful work of enormous insight dealing with the search for identity. It is remarkable on so many levels, from the power of its descriptions and words to the depth of its various messages to the compelling nature of its story. It commands to be read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2003

    A beautiful, yet tragic story....

    This is truly a must read! This book is beautifully written. Mr. Baldwin did a superb job describing how David (the lead character) and Giovanni (his male lover) meet and fall in love. Their love story is beautiful and tragic. As a LGBT counselor, I have recommended this book to many of the people I have talked with. This story appeals to everyone: gay and straight. This book is moving and it touches your heart. Don't be surprised if you are moved to tears towards the end. This is one of the best stories that I have ever read and it sustains its title as a classic of gay literature.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2002

    Fall In love!

    This is the kind of book you fall in love with as you're reading it. I never wanted it to end!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2002

    truly amazing read

    Having just finished reading 'Giovannis room' i can honestly say it is the most moving and amazing book i have ever had the pleasure of reading, i just could not put it down, it's very thought provoking, the characters are wonderful and you fall in love with them....finishing the book was like leaving a best friend behind, i'm sure it will have a lasting effect on me....any book that makes you cry..(rare)....has to- read it read it read it!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2001

    You'll be captivated instantly!

    This book was like nothing I've ever read before. 'Giovanni's Room' was without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read! This is a superb narrative about a young American man who while living in Paris finds himself torn between his fiancée Hella and an Italian bartender named Giovanni. He carries on a relationship with Giovanni, but when Hella returns from a trip to Spain everything spirals out of control. This is a poignant and tasteful story that will no doubt leave a powerful impression on you. I was so taken by the story I found myself thinking about it for days afterward. James Baldwin does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life with his exceptional writing, while at the same time allowing the reader to gain insight into the passion and pain associated with love. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2001

    Exellent Novel

    Giovanni's room is the most powerful and honest book I've ever read. It is also very different from Baldwin's other books. I was very moved and surprised by it. I think that everyone who considers himself/herself to be an intillectual or just a well-read person should read this book. This book makes you think for a long time and its' characters never leave you. It is an increadible piece of literature! I envy people who have not read it yet because there is a wonderful intence journey ahead of them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2000

    Ingenuity imitating Genius; Art imitating Life

    Baldwin carefully sketches a Masterpiece Theatre in exploring the complex-simplicities present in this legendary showcase of dialogue and characterization: A model for aspiring literary artists. Baldwin's mastery of cross-cultural language and Absent Presences (such as his reluctance to mention any character's employment status in any detail) is recognizable and appreciated as it personifies a certain conservative-rebelliousness that Giovanni's Room identifies with. To critique Baldwin is comparable to the in-depth study of Law: Arduos, laborious, challenging, while rewarding, enlightening, and if nothing else, humbling, as he displays an obvious gift for expressing many methods of stating the formerly unspoken. Sound, relevant, thought provoking literature. A must read.

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    Posted June 20, 2009

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    Posted February 28, 2010

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    Posted August 21, 2009

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    Posted October 18, 2013

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