Dave & Giovanni’s Room

Dave, student, from Mumbai recommends „Giovanni’s Room“ by James Baldwin.

1. What is the book about?
To me, the book is not as much about sexuality as it is about guilt and love. Set in Paris, the book shows you a side of the city juxtaposed with the classical romantic notion; yet it is in no way less amorous. As someone who’s lived in Paris, it is not difficult to relate to the caricature of the city drawn by Baldwin. To me, the book is a gateway to the city; to the streets that the protagonist and I shared at 4 AM in the morning, separated by half a century.

2. Why do you recommend the book?
In today’s world of rising intolerance, we need Baldwin’s words to help us quell the hatred around us. Baldwin talks about the relation between David and Giovanni not as homosexual love but just as ‚love‘, as normal as any. The book does not attempt to normalize homosexual relationships, it considers them at the same level as the socially accepted heterosexual relationships. The book provides an excellent picture of Paris, the noir, the miasma of cigarette smoke, the language – just French with no translations. It talks about love, guilt, passion and its consequences; and it makes you feel for them – not just love, but anger, contempt and compassion, too.

3. You read the last sentence and finish the book. What stays?
What stays with me after months of having read the book is the guilt that bites at David and the ways in which, due to his fear and repressed desires, he builds a prison for his own soul. His struggle with himself – who he is, who he wants to be and who he can be – is as close to my heart as any. If we were to find a moral from this story, it would be to be honest not just with ourselves, but also with those whom we love.

4. What is your favorite passage?
„And this was perhaps the first time in my life that death occurred to me as a reality. I thought of the people before me who had looked down at the river and gone to sleep beneath it. I wondered about them. I wondered how they had done it — it, the physical act. I had thought of suicide when I was much younger, as, possibly, we all have, but then it would have been for revenge, it would have been my way of informing the world how awfully it had made me suffer. But the silence of the evening, as I wandered home, had nothing to do with that storm, that far off boy. I simply wondered about the dead because their days had ended and I did not know how I would get through mine.“

James Baldwin. Giovanni’s Room. 1956