#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 27

Day 27 – Favorite Line/Paragraph: 

As you know Another Country was one of my favorite books that I read last year.  It was such a revelation to me – from the writing style to the complex characters and to all the societal themes that are still relevant today.IMG_1479  There were so many great lines from this book I had difficulty choosing.  I went with the scene on page 279 where Ida is trying tell Cass how it really is for black people.  Of course Cass thinks things are always exaggerated.  “Kept you here, and stunted you and starved you, and made you watch your mother and father and sister and lover and brother  and son and daughter die or go mad or go under, before your very eyes?  And not in a hurry, like from one day to the next, but, every day, every day, for years, for generations?  Shit.  They keep you here because you’re black, while they go around jerking themselves off with all that jazz about  the land of the free and the home of the brave.  And they want you to jerk yourself off with that same music, too, only, keep your distance.  Some days, honey, I wish I could turn myself  into one big fist and grind this miserable country to powder.  Some days, I don’t believe it has a right to exist.  Now, you’ve never felt like that, and Vivaldo’s never felt like that…..if he hadn’t been born black.” (Another Country, p. 279 Penguin Modern Classics Edition)  If you want to know more about what I thought click here.

What’s your favorite line/paragraph?

Another Country

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 IMG_0956characters 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.

 

 

Black Like Me

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The old saying is that you never know what someone else is going through or living until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes and frankly it’s impossible.  However, John Howard Griffin turned his skin black and tried to live as a black man for six weeks while travelling through the Deep South in 1959.  He persisted to take a medication which is normally prescribed to patients suffering from vitiligo, a disease where white spots appear on the body and the face, in conjunction with exposure to ultra-violet rays to darken his skin.  This process would take from six weeks to three months but since he wanted the process to be accelerated so that he could get on to his project, the doses were augmented so that he could start on his journey as a black man.

Now this is actually my second reading of this book.  I’d forgotten how powerful it is, not to mention I was only seventeen the first time I read it and really can’t remember what I thought of it.  I don’t usually have the habit of rereading books, but I think I may have to change that.  You do see things differently reading books at different ages.

Black Like Me really does explore the life of a black man, but directly through the eyes of a white man.  It’s like being a fly on the wall.  Griffin went through the Deep South in 1959, riding buses, hitchhiking, trying to find jobs, and meeting blacks and whites of all classes.  The book is recounted in journal entries since this is what he used as a way to record everything he’d seen and felt for the day.  So, it is like we have a sneak peek into his travels.

One main positive point of Black Like Me is that it is particularly well written and Griffin had an astute sense of analysis about the people he met along the journey, about some the things they said and even their body language and facial expressions.  He interpreted situations perfectly.  In fact, there were moments of high suspense where we as the reader feared for him.  All in all his experience helped him to tell the story of his journey.  Now I’m sure some African-Americans will have a problem accepting Black Like Me because it’s a white man telling it, so its authenticity is on the line and he was white so he couldn’t really know what black people were going through.  I get that, but I have to disagree, in this case.  Griffin approached this whole idea like a journalist but with the skin he was in he would have had to be blind not to feel some of the things blacks were feeling and going through at the time, for everyone that looked at him treated him like he was black.  He makes that point quite clear in the novel when he talks about the hard racist stares and how the blackness of the skin is what seems to be despised and why the black man was treated as inferior.  He reflects on this and explains how illogical this way of thinking is and the more and more that he continues on his journey the more that he feels like a shadow.  “I have held no brief for the Negro.  I have looked diligently for all aspects of “inferiority” among them and I cannot find them.  All the cherished-begging epithets applied to the Negro race, and widely accepted as truth even by men of good will, simply prove untrue when one lives among them.  This, of course, excludes the trash element, which is the same everywhere and is no more evident among Negroes than whites.  When all the talk, all the propaganda has been cut away, the criterion is nothing but the color of skin.  My experience proved that.  They judged me by no other quality.  My skin was dark.  That was sufficient reason for them to deny me those rights and freedoms without which life loses its significance and becomes a matter of little more than animal survival.  I searched for some other answer and found none.  I had spent a day without food and water for no other reason than that my skin was black.“(Black Like Me, p.115)

In essence, I believe this book was written for the white man.  Most people believed black people were poorly educated and probably dismissed their writings and absolutely didn’t believe that they were disenfranchised.  Whereas Black Like Me was like a ripple in the river that couldn’t be ignored, I remember hearing my Uncle Lawrence talk to me about this book when I was young, as well as Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Dick Gregory, W.E.B DuBois, and others.  He felt that Black Like Me was an accurate account and felt that every American should read it.  He used to say, “It happened, is still happening in some places, and we should talk about it.”

As I was reading Black Like Me this second time, I was thinking about my mother and my Uncle Lawrence and wondering how in the world did they survive all of that.  I wondered deep down inside if I would have been as strong and combative as they were.  I felt this especially at the moments in the book that  made me feel sick to my stomach and very fearful.  This just reinforces that history must be told in its entirety and truthfully.  We can’t afford to leave anything out.  Our youth and future generations are depending on our capacity to be thorough, but most of all honest.  Everybody needs to know where they’ve come from, how they’ve acquired what they have today, and what they hope for the future.

If Beale Street Could Talk

38463This book really took me by surprise.  The last James Baldwin book I read was Go Tell it on the Mountain and that was over 20 years ago.  I just remember enjoying parts of it and other parts were a bit slow.  If Beale Street Could Talk is the story of Fonny and Clementine alias Tish.  They are deeply in love and are planning to move into a loft flat in Greenwich Village together.  It’s the 1970s and relations between blacks and whites are tense.  They finally find a loft apartment where they can live together and Fonny can do his passion sculpting.  When one day the police come and take Fonny away because he’s being accused of rape.  From there, the story follows the trials and tribulations of Fonny trying to stay positive that he will get out of jail and Fonny and Tish’s families trying to earn enough money to pay the lawyer’s fees and most of all trying to support each other during this difficult time.

What struck me about If Beale Street Could Talk, Baldwin’s thirteenth novel, was that it was direct, realistic, and the impressive in-your-face style of writing.  Baldwin was telling it like it was, as always.  If you’re not ready to listen then abstain.  The language is very 1970s but I found it somehow refreshing.  The story is fiction but it rings as a true one.  Baldwin even adds sexually explicit scenes to accentuate the reality of the story even more.  The families seem to represent two types of families in the black community.  There was Tisha’s family that remains unified and supporting each other no matter what.  They will brave fire and walk to the ends of the Earth for each other.  On the other hand, Fonny’s family is superficial, judgmental, and unreliable.  His mother claims to be a christian although she has the most unchristian  attitude and believes that she is better than everybody else.  His sisters are frivolous and negligent on their quests to find husbands and picking from the most ineligible types.  They don’t seem to care very much about their brother and that goes even before he gets thrown into jail.  Sonny’s father Frank loves him very much but as the story progresses he proves to be unable to keep up the strength needed to help Fonny get out of jail.

Baldwin put a lot of emphasis on character development and less on the story, but that wasn’t a problem at all since the characters are described and put into situations so that we can understand them better.  Even so, the novel reads with ease and the dated expressions conjure up some humour.  My favourite character is Ernestine, Tish’s sister, because of her strong personality and her frankness.  She is a really self-sufficient, strong character who really knows what to do and say.

I really enjoyed reading If Beale Street Could Talk because this was one of the many important classic works of African-American literature.  James Baldwin was a master.  He always managed to tell the most realistic stories about African-Americans and their difficulty to survive and to progress.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of picking up any of his work, I highly recommend If Beale Street Could Talk.  It contains themes of racism, love, and solidarity among the disinherited that are fighting for their rights the best they can with the little they’ve got.  These themes are very universal but are all treated in intricate woven threads around the unfair imprisonment of Fonny.  It is a bittersweet tale and the quote on the back of the Vintage International edition is spot on, “A moving, painful story, so vividly human and so obviously based on reality that it strikes us as timeless.” – Joyce Carol Oates.

Title: If Beale Street Could Talk

Genre:  African-American/Classic/Literature

Published:  1974

Edition:  Vintage International

Pages:  197

Language:  English

Favorite quote: “Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind.” (If Beale Street Could Talk, p. 99)

My rating:  * * * * 

+5,165