Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Another Country, by James Baldwin

(pb; 1960)


A thin veneer of civility and eroticism covers the socio-racial-political seethings that impel Baldwin's characters through their daily lives. There's Rufus Scott, an angry bisexual Negro jazz drummer who's going crazy with racial awareness; there's Daniel Vivaldo Moore (aka, Vivaldo), Rufus's Irish friend and would-be writer, who has a mighty desire for Ida, Rufus's sister and aspiring singer. Other characters, like Cass and Richard Silenski – a middle-class couple, with a supposedly “solid” marriage – and Eric Jones, Rufus's ex-lover and American expatriate (by his own doing), embody the naked rage that lurks close to the surface of these Americans' relationships, just waiting to boil over.

This is a disturbing, rude, forthright work. At some points during my reading of Another Country I had to stop and take a deep breath, before resuming my reading of it; that's how intense it is (while Baldwin sprinkles hopeful and loving moments throughout the book, it's largely unrelenting).

Many writers talk about writing the Great American Novel. Baldwin has done so – and what a powerhouse story it is, unflinching and often grim. To quote my mother, who recommended this to me: “Read it. You won't forget it.”

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