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[31] Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

“Love him and let him love you.”

A young American expatriate in Paris is torn between relationship with a woman and love affair with a man. Set in the 1950s, Giovanni’s Room is a man’s excruciating repentance, or rather reminiscence, of one particular lie among the many lies he has told in his life. Could it be the first love, or maybe his only love, because David has never for an instant truly forgotten his first love, Giovanni, and the thought of whom often gives a guilty lurch in his stomach. He feels in himself a faint, dreadful stirring of what so overwhelming stirs in him. He meets Giovanni at the bar while his girlfriend Hella vacations in Spain. But David is uneasy about this relationship that is no more than just a sexual escapade with Giovanni. A feeling of contempt and pique conquers him to an extent that fear and anguish have become the surface on which he slips and tumbles. Is David really confused as he claims to be? Or is he just afraid of being despised? He is on a constant struggle for social approbation that he will forfeit his Giovanni’s love for him – maybe his love for Giovanni as well? He thinks being with Hella will rescue him from his love for Giovanni.

At first I am not sure how much David cherishes Giovanni until he confesses his irrevocable love for him. That he will never be able to love anyone like he loves Giovanni intensifies his mental struggle with the forbidden love: What kind of life can two men have together? He keeps on fighting his life, fighting his love because he sees no prospect of a life shared by two men. Beneath this struggle for social acceptance is laden with a deep calling to abandon the conventional norms of success, worth, and love. He views this abject terror of desire with interminable cynicism and cruelty.

Giovanni’s Room explores the troubling emotions of man’s heart with unusual candor and yet with dignity and intensity. It delves into the most controversial issue of morality with an artistry. The most touching and absorbing thing is Giovanni’s unconditional love for David, whose fearful intimation opens in him a hatred for Giovanni that is as powerful as his love for him. This love for Giovanni has been meticulously suppressed, and is not recognized until the ineluctable separation, which compounds David’s scruple. The loss compounds his regret of not confessing his love. Even though Giovanni is very fond of him already, Giovanni’s affection and loyalty do not make him happy or proud, as it should. Aren’t we all somehow like David? We always want to wait to make sure the feeling is right, but how can we be sure? To David Love can only be measured by the grief so inconsolable that is concomitant of his loss. To the rest of us it’s a message to drop our ego for an ideal relationship.

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13 Responses

  1. Great review. I read this a long time ago and can’t remember much. I should re-read it.

  2. this book was absolutely amazing.

  3. Yet, unfortunately, I had a possibility to read an excerpt of the book that I still loved very much. Hope to have a chance to read the complete book.
    pliesius

  4. Yet, unfortunately, I had a possibility to read an excerpt of the book that I still loved very much. Hope to have a chance to read the complete book.
    pliesius

  5. […] Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky 5. Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin 6. The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco 7. Blindness, Jose Saramago 8. The Painted […]

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