Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Audiobook Review: Giovanni's Room
Author: James Baldwin
Narrator: Dan Butler
Unabridged, Length 6 hrs, 49 min
Publisher: AudioGo Ltd 4/1/13
Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin's now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.
I found Giovanni's Room to be emotionally intense and powerful. David, a young American, has fled to Paris to escape something in himself that he does not want to admit. His girlfriend, Hella, is traveling on her own to give herself some time to decide what she wants from their relationship. David spends time with his friends in a gay bar to prove to himself that he is not one of them. Then he meets Giovanni and begins a love affair that makes him realize escape will never happen. The novel begins with the end. Hella is on her way back to America and Giovanni's fate is sealed. I could empathize with David, being torn between two lovers and fighting against something in himself that he didn't want to accept. I could feel for Hella, knowing she lost her fiancee to another man. But my sympathies were mostly with Giovanni, who thought David was his salvation and begged him not to leave. I won't say any more for fear of spoiling it for other readers but when the last chapter was over I had a lump in my throat for hours.
Dan Butler was the perfect voice for David. At first I thought he was reading too slowly and deliberately but I soon saw that his interpretation gave David's thoughts a dreamlike quality. It was almost as if David was seeing his memories through a curtain as a way to keep them from being so sharp they would destroy him.
James Baldwin is an amazing writer. When Giovanni's Room was published in 1957, I'm sure people were outraged at a black man daring to write about gay white men. It's such an important literary work, I don't know why I never discovered it until now but I'm glad I did. I give it 5 stars.
Review copy provided by AudioGo.