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[186] Another Country – James Baldwin

anothercountry11“Vivaldo hoped that he was dreaming still. A terrible sorrow entered him, because he was dreaming and because he was awake. Immediately, he felt that he had created his dream in order to create this opportunity; he had brought about something that he had long desired.” [322]

Manhattan in late sixties. Beneath the radical liberalness that defines the time, Baldwin populates his diverse characters–straight and gay, black and white, into a world of racial consciousness. The first fifth of the novel tells of the downfall of jazz drummer Rufus Scott, who is with too much soul and yet too thin a black skin. He has been painfully mindful of Eric, his first male lover and an actor, who is caught in a strange bisexual masquerade. When Eric is gone, Rufus seeks consolation in and at the same time transmute his pent-up anger on his white mistress Leona, who is eventually committed to a mental hospital.

When Rufus is stuck up to the point of no point, when the overwrought young man cannot understand all the things that hurt him, he takes his life. Rufus’ friends, Vivialdo, a struggle novelist, his mentor Richard, and Richard’s wife Cass, cannot understand his suicide, but afterward they become closer and Vivaldo begins a relationship with Rufus’ sister Ida, which is strained by racial tension and Ida’s bitterness after her brother’s death. Meanwhile, Eric returns to New York after a stay in France where he met his longtime lover Yves. Eric returns to the novel’s social circle but is more calm and composed than most of the clique.

Halfway through the cumbersome reading it’s obvious that one’s willingness to ignore parts of reality that he or she finds unpleasant dominates. Vivaldo is perhaps the most affected by this tendency. He also denies his own bisexuality. He refuses to admit his attraction to Rufus. Eric is the novel’s most honest and open character. He admits that Rufus was an abusive person, that his affair with Cass is frivolous and that his love of Yves is genuine. This also makes him the book’s most calm and composed character and, only after a night with Eric, does Vivaldo see the world clearly. The circle of friends have merely been taking refuge in the outward adventure in order to avoid the clash and tension of the adventure proceeding inexorably within. As they plunge into communication in the form of sexual musical chairs, they are haunted by the terrors buried beneath the impossible social language of the time—sexual and interracial boundaries, which render their true feeling spiteful and fermented.

Despite all that is said, that he has nailed in his writing most of the white characters in the book refuse to admit the racial tension surrounding them, this is my least favorite of Baldwin up to date, ranked lower than Giovanni’s Room and Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, reading more like pulp fiction that is redolent of entangled affairs. 336 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

8 Responses

  1. I truly enjoyed this review. Up until today I was not aware of this author or these books.

  2. Another Country deals with a number of relationships among straights and gays, men and women. In a sense, I find these people more confused. Whereas Giovanni’s Room is the struggle between two gay men whose outlook in relationship are different. Both explore the thought about the type of future that two men can have together.

  3. […] about a GLBT writer? Another Country by James Baldwin, who is also a renowned African American writer in the 1950s. The landmark And the […]

  4. […] about a GLBT writer? Another Country by James Baldwin, who is also a renowned African American writer in the 1950s. The landmark And […]

  5. […] devoted to reading literature by African American writers. Beloved, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Another Country, Sula, And This Too Shall Pass and Like Trees, Walking were read. On to the highlights of some of […]

  6. (summer 2012) I found this review while looking for stuff about novels with gay consciousness that I read in the 1960s. Sorry you didn’t like it, Matthew. It definitely changed my life when I read it in the summer of 1964. You need to check your copyright dates. THis novel is set in the late 1950s, not late 1960s as you said in your review. Considering the time it was written, I still found it pretty amazing when I reread it recently. Until I read it in my teenage years, I had no idea that there could be happy homosexuals. I consider Baldwin to be my favorite author of all time.

    • Thanks Jeff. I have always wanted to re-read Another Country because I didn’t feel I fully appreciate the novel. Then I have read James baldwin’s biography, his letters, and essays. This book is up for re-read. I just check the dates and I’ll modify the review.

  7. The book describes NYC in the late 50’s.

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