Episode 44: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

“In the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. 

David is a young American expatriate who has just proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Hella. While she is away on a trip, David meets a bartender named Giovanni to whom he is drawn in spite of himself. Soon the two are spending the night in Giovanni’s curtainless room, which he keeps dark to protect their privacy. But Hella’s return to Paris brings the affair to a crisis, one that rapidly spirals into tragedy.

David struggles for self-knowledge during one long, dark night—“the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life.” With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a deeply moving story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.” 

Did you know many Black writers including Zora Neale Hurston, Frank Yerby, and Lorraine Hansberry wrote works in which most or all of the characters were white? One of the best of these is James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. In this episode, we discuss Baldwin’s classic second novel, with its tortured main character, David, an American marking time in Paris. While not a book with a propulsive plot, we were all three blown away by the writing. We also marveled at Baldwin’s ability to render compelling, flawed, and believable white characters. Mostly, we were fascinated by the emotional and psychological predicament of David, a young man who is afraid to surrender to his feelings for another man, and why despite this fact, this book is almost always at the top of lists of the best queer novels ever written. Check this one out, you guys — we think you’ll like it. 

Mentioned in the Show

What the Spoilers are up to!

James Baldwin

  • Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • Another Country
  • Just Above My Head
  • The Fire Next Time
  • “The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American” from Nobody Knows My Name
  • Vagabounds!, Eloghosa Osunde
  • I am Not Your Negro (2018), Written by James Baldwin & Raoul Peck
  • Todd: S.A. Cosby, My Darkest Prayer; BEEF (Netflix)
  • Crystal: Black Women Writers at Work, Ed. by Claudia Tate, especially Audre Lorde interview essay; Brandee Younger, Brand New Life
  • Anita: Continually Working, Crystal Moten

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *