Giovanni’s Room: a Micro-Bookreview

From time to time I hope to post about what I’ve been reading. I’m by no means a literature expert, so I’ll be sticking to micro-reviews (I’m not sure if this is a real phrase, but it seems right). 

jb gio

Plot Summary (no spoilers)

A young, white, American male visits France. His girlfriend is in Spain trying to decide whether or not to agree to marry him. While he is in France, he meets Giovanni – a poor, male bartender. They fall for each other and the narrator is torn between his desire / love for Giovanni and his girlfriend.

James Baldwin 

You can read about him here. Of note in this novel, the protagonist is white. Much to consider re: why – in an era where homosexuality was widely condemned – a black, gay author chose to write a novel about a white, gay protagonist. I’d like to think of it as sort of a throwing the gauntlet down to the world, but this interpretation may be incorrect. 

The Text [1]

“People who believe they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all – a real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named – but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the worlds are not.”

From every angle from which I can view the world (philosophy, genetics, physics, sociology, anthropology, neurology, psychology, to name some), I find little foundation for the notion that anyone is a master of her own destiny. Yet, I can only admit this in times of reflection. When I am in the day itself, all I can see is agency, everywhere, as illusionary as it may be.

The Text [2]

“Beneath the joy, of course, was anguish and beneath the amazement was fear; but they did not work themselves to the beginning until our high beginning was aloes on our tongues. By then anguish and fear had become the surface on which we slipped and slid, losing balance, dignity, and pride. Giovanni’s face, which I had memorized so many mornings, noons, and nights, hardened before my eyes, began to give in secret places, began to crack. The light in the eyes become a glitter; the wide and beautiful brow began to suggest the skull beneath.”

The phrase that caught me we “the beautiful brow began to suggest the skull beneath.” In a metaphorical sense, the phrase works. But what about the literal sense? Those (rare) moments in life when being cognizant of our anatomy renders us somehow (more? less?) human. 

That’s all for this micro-bookreview. I highly recommend the novel. 

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