If Beale Street Could Talk (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 29 September 1994
Soulful . . . Racial injustice may flatten "the black experience" into one single, fearful, constantly undermined way of life-but black life, black love, is so much larger than that . . . It's one of the signature lessons of Baldwin's work that blackness contains multitudes ― Vanity Fair
Truth-telling, witness bearing, soul stirring writing -- Cornel West
The spirit of Jimmy's work is of a high moral prophetic vision -- Amriri Baraka
One of the few essential novelists of our time ― New Statesman
About the Author
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- Publisher : Penguin UK (29 September 1994)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 192 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0140187979
- ISBN-13 : 978-0140187977
- Item Weight : 179 g
- Dimensions : 19.8 x 1.4 x 12.9 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #107,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The girl's family is loving and supportive whilst the boy's family is more conflicted.
There are some wonderful conversations in this book, but the passage I enjoyed the most is concerned with the antagonism between the two families when they meet to discuss how they should deal with the girl's pregnancy The encounter is both physically and verbally pretty brutal and I loved it.
If you are someone who is not keen on the use of swear words then you might want to give this a wide birth as they are used quite liberally and with great effect; the book is populated by realistic characters with real and very difficult lives.
An ever present throughout the book is a hatred of the racism these characters have to negotiate their lives through.
The author himself was a black homosexual civil rights activist and I, as a middle-class white male, couldn't fail to get a real sense of the indignities, wrongs and frustrations heaped on the American black population. I also felt that the voices of the characters were noticeably different from those written by white authors e.g. you wont hear white men referring to each other as "baby".
The language employed is not difficult and the book, whilst by no means simple, is a joy to read and I can't for the life of me understand people giving a book of this quality a poor review.
It's a short powerful read that packs a punch, brings alive two individuals who don't give up on each other because sometimes love is all you've got in life.
The approach is unusual in that the male author sets himself the challenge of getting inside the mind of a young woman, even to the extent of describing her orgasm. James Baldwin is also experimental in the flexible structure of the book. Tish narrates the novel in the first person, presumably to involve the reader in a more vivid experience of the drama, but when it suits him he replaces her voice with his own observations in his own style, as when he launches into an analysis of the mental differences between women and men. To portray events in which, say, Fonny’s friend Daniel is previously framed by the police and put in prison, or Tish’s mother Sharon visits Puerto Rico to make contact with the woman who has been manipulated into picking Fonny out of an identity parade, the author simply takes “writer’s licence” and has Tish describe scenes as if she has witnessed them in person.
With strong opening scenes, dialogues and sense of place, as the facts are revealed, I found myself engrossed in how they would play out. Although it seems inevitable that Fonny would be found guilty, would some twist expose a fatal flaw in the prosecution? The sympathetic white lawyer might be prepared to work virtually “pro bono”, but how would Tish’s family and Fonny’s loving but weak father Frank manage to scrape together the money for his bail, without themselves taking to illegal activities which might cause them to fall foul of the law?
The “bad” characters are too often caricatures with no redeeming features, like Fonny’s religiously fanatical mother who seems inexplicably hostile towards him – most mothers love their sons. His thinly sketched sisters are also pointlessly disagreeable. Although I am often intrigued by ambiguous or inconclusive situations leaving one free to form one’s own conclusion, in this case I was surprised and disappointed by an ending so abrupt as to seem incomplete. Yet perhaps for Baldwin, the development of specific scenes was more important than the arc of a plot.