It’s the late fifties in New York and Another Country begins following the ineffaceable Rufus Scott. He’s a jazz musician whose luck seems to have run out. From there the story of Another Country unfolds in three parts to uncover artists on their journey to survive life among racial unrest, misguided friendships, vacillating sexuality, societal pressures, and all while discovering a myriad of unlikable, flawed characters.
Another Country is a slow burn of a story that will suck you in and keep you hooked. It’s not a story of plot. It is a novel which is purely character development. Each character is introduced in juxtaposition with another character to stress their faults. The characters are placed in a setting that can only make their development thought-provoking. We as readers are like flies on the wall observing this unavoidable train wreck between “friends”. The tension is continuous. The language is clever, direct, and depicts a lot of the criticisms Baldwin had on race, sexuality, and life in the United States at that time.
Rufus’s sister Ida is Baldwin’s mouth piece. Every phrase and critic she makes throughout the novel espouses Baldwin’s beliefs on race relations at that time in the United States. “What you people don’t know ” she said, “is that life is a bitch, baby. It’s the biggest hype going. You don’t have any experience in paying your dues and it’s going to be rough on you, baby, when the deal goes down. They’re lots of back dues to be collected, and I know damn well you haven’t got a penny saved.” (Another Country, p. 343) This is what Ida says to Cass towards the end of the novel in a taxi on their way to a club on Seventh Avenue, to see a lowdown man called Steve Ellis. Steve Ellis looks down on blacks yet he’s quite happy to use black women to fulfil his desires. Ida’s rage is spewed out on these few pages. She’s confronting Cass who is the antithesis of her. Cass is white from a privileged family and tries to appear to be sympathetic to blacks when in fact she’s afraid of them. She lives in the world and doesn’t see what surrounds her – racial injustice. She is consumed in her own petty life. Most of the characters in this group are the same way. Eric is the only character that is honest, who sees the difficulties, and is honest about his role, even when he’s betraying a friend.
Richard, Cass’s husband, is a self absorbent racist, who believes he’s an intellectual and a good writer. His character is cold, calculating, and unfeeling. It’s impossible that he could ever really be a successful writer, and he refuses to admit it to himself. Vivaldo is the character that I liked the most, in spite of his terrible faults. He’s ambivalent at times about his sexuality, but his love for Ida seems to be real yet unattainable. Unfortunately, they are on opposite sides. Ida can never love a white man without taunting him and making him feel some sort of guilt that their relationship is wrong. She shares a part of that guilt as well. On the other hand, Vivaldo has a slight fetish for black women so when he says he loves Ida, his jealousy rages and he always seems to treat Ida as property or as if she’s a loose woman – very unsettling. The thing is he doesn’t even realise it. Moreover, that’s not all he doesn’t realise. He seems to make light of the difficulties that blacks have in society and refuses to see the differences.
So as you can see the novel has so many layers with so many themes and the characters are flawed just enough to learn a lot about the time period, about life in New York for artists in the late fifties, and about different backgrounds. I’d say this is by far my favorite Baldwin novel. I’m sure to read this one again in a few years. There are so many new things to discover that I’m sure I may have missed. So far, I’ve read If Beale Street Could Talk, Giovanni’s Room, Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, and finally Another Country. I’m so happy to have had the pleasure to pick up his fantastic work and I urge you all to do so too. Baldwin was one of the great American writers that isn’t spoken enough about in schools these days and we as readers can learn so much from reading his work. As my reading continues on the road to discover more of Baldwin’s work, I’m hesitating between picking up Go Tell it on the Mountain or The Fire Next Time. So have you read any Baldwin? If so what did you think? What have you read? What would you like to pick up next? Which one should I pick up? If you have read Another Country you can check out the video below where I discuss everything about it with one of my favorite Booktubers, Danielle from OneSmallPaw in a live show. It’s not spoiler free so only watch if you’ve read the book. I also recommend checking out Danielle’s James Baldwin series.