Book Review: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956)

38462Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

‘Those who love from a distance are not seduced by lust.’

Thus crooned a honeyed, longing voice I happened to hear two days back. Perhaps the essence was expressed before; in manifold arrangement of words, in wavy placement of multiple strings. But sometimes, something utterly simple, almost omnipresent, comes and strikes us somewhere with a profundity which all at once, makes it new, unparalleled, uncompressing in nature.

Giovanni comes as such a maddening gust of life. A gust, I say, because he doesn’t know restraint. He has never met the mild, is unaware of modesty. And when this rolling ball of enthusiasm chances upon David, the quintessential tranquil land of many secrets and desires, he gushes all over him like a pregnant cumulus cloud, bursting open at last. A tumultuous relationship commences within the confines of the dark, dingy apartment of Giovanni, which like his room, has its regular streaks of ravishing sunshine but is perennially contaminated by the sun’s short-lived visits.

Every morning the sky and the sun seemed to be a little higher and the river stretched before us with a greater haze of promise. Every day the bookstall keepers seemed to have taken off another garment, so that the shape of their bodies appeared to be undergoing a most striking and continual metamorphosis.

The ravaging gust named Giovanni wracks David out of his shell, stripping him of all his earthly shields and laying bare his soul, in all its duplicity and volatility. Perplexed David stands rickety on his ground, dissolving under his partner’s intensity on one hand and reducing under his own timidity on the other.

With this fearful intimation there opened in me a hatred for Giovanni which was as powerful as my love and which was nourished by the same roots.

But just as a gust finds its time marked and its character stunted by its inherent shortcomings, Giovanni’s disintegration was but a matter a time. But should disintegration be a worthy fate to choose over an unattended, worse, abandoned presence?

The dots joining the journey the duo undertake, not just together, but for each other, was the agonizingly beautiful painting Baldwin drew on my mind. The picture, I saw, was hardly about homosexuality or lasciviousness; it was about blindness. Blindness that is a by-product of mismatched colours, dipped in which different dreams, aggressively overlap the canvas of life, rendering the resultant image a slipshod parable of promising beginnings. Baldwin’s brush was delicate but firm; so that I found on each page of this book, his creations running amok, as can only be attributed to hazardous dreamers but lining up under his fatherly wave, oft-touched at their jagged edges to imbibe a few dimes of pursed dignity. Giovanni, of course, is the jewel of his palette, whom he paints with such humongous passion that his excess, ironically, becomes his truncator.

Baldwin does not preach or send a message; he leaves the doors open for the fearless to delve deep and for the cautious, to walk away. And as long as one reaches home, the eyes can secure another night and the soul, another world. After all, it seems that

…. perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.

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Read all my reviews here.

[Image courtesy getty images]

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