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Written half a century ago and read against the backdrop of “Black Lives Matter” this modern classic is a reminder of the persistence of racial injustice, given added authenticity by the black American author’s personal experience. Nineteen-year-old Tish has a steady job and close-knit family, who accept with almost unbelievable equanimity her unplanned pregnancy, just when her fiancé and childhood sweetheart Fonny, who has ambitions to be a sculptor, has been arrested for a serious crime on a charge trumped up by a vicious racist white police officer. Made all the more poignant by the depth of the couple’s love, this novel is an unflinching portrayal of how the cards may be stacked to destroy the lives of an innocent couple simply because of their colour.
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.
Gritty harrowing account of oppression and the fight to overcome it. The story however seems in parts to have been recorded in notation form as some parts are better written than others. Great love story between Tish and Fonny and their unborn child. The story shows the loving relationship of Tish’s parents towards Fonny who’s been wrongfully incarcerated. My only disappointment is that the story ends too abruptly.
The book was moving in that it described the unjust realities of the world that hit upon some more than on others. It is well written. Fonny's family were a bit too bad though and things are not always in black and white. People are not often simply good or bed. There's an in between that the author didn't delve in to until the very end of the book which was a shame. I think the book was too short , ending too abruptly .
It’s a long time since I read Baldwin and I had forgotten how good he is. It’s a moving story and one in which you realise what it must have been like to be coloured in NY in the 70’s. I felt I had to dock one star as the ending seems rushed and a little unsatisfying. That said it’s still a great 200 pages of classic literature.
I wanted to read this book ahead of the release of the film of the same name. I took some time to get used to the language used but found the story very moving and felt I got to know the characters really well. However, I will be interested to see how the film deals with the very open ending to the story.
I thought I had read this Baldwin novel in my teens but I hadn't. What a shame I am only coming to it now. I feel like everyone should read this. And talk about it. So many years have passed since it was written and no real changes. We must do better. I am sorry.
“If Beale Street could talk” não é o livro mais famoso de James Baldwin (o posto é de “Go tell it on the moutain”), mas nele, o 5o romance do autor, estão todos os temas que são caros à sua obra: identidade, família e religião. Por meio de um casal de jovens afro-americanos enfrentando uma injustiça, o escritor investiga em sua prosa sempre poética - tão poética que beira a litúrgica – o que era ser negro nos EUA. Infelizmente, talvez muito pouco tenha mudado em relação à questão racial no país, por isso seus livros ainda são atuais.
Fonny e Tish vivem de uma maneira que beira a fantasia tamanha a proteção que suas famílias têm sobre eles, até que a realidade bate na porta. Fonny é injustamente acusado de estupro, mandado para a prisão e seu julgamento está longe. Nessa mesma época, Tish descobre-se grávida, e, surpreendendo as expectativas (ao menos do público leitor), a família da moça lhe dá todo apoio.
Baldwin cria personagens marcantes e alguma cenas inesquecíveis. O encontro entre as duas famílias, quando Tish revela a gravidez aos pais do namorado é forte, impressionante, resolvendo-se numa grande catarse que agrada mais a nós, leitores, do que aos personagens. É um momento um tanto mesquinho do livro, no qual o autor coloca duas famílias afro-americanas para brigar verbal e fisicamente talvez para satisfazer o nosso prazer. É uma sensação estranha, mas, por outro lado, o autor é capaz de criar figuras bastante positivas dando aos personagens negros algo muito além do estereótipo. Ele lhes dá uma alma, os faz de carne e osso, repletos de qualidades e defeitos – com qualquer pessoa.
De qualquer forma, ““If Beale Street could talk” é um exemplar claro da prosa poética de Baldwin e um relato que tem muito a dizer sobre a condição e posição do negro na sociedade americana. Talvez o escritor tenha aberto um caminho que mais tarde seria seguido também por Toni Morrison – essa uma grande escritora. O livro, no entanto, não deixa de ser atual, e uma prova disso é o romance “An American marriage”, da escritora Tayari Jones, que tem exatamente o mesmo ponto de partida: a dissolução de um casal afro-americano quando o marido é acusado de um estupro que ele não cometeu.
I have finally read my first James Baldwin novel, "If Beale Street could Talk". The reason was because of the massive amount of press coming out about the critically acclaimed movie of the same name. So as not to divulge spoilers about both the book and movie I will not discuss the plot here. Suffice it to say that the systematic racism existing today in the United States has not changed drastically for some black folk since 1974. On the other hand, the justice system would no longer rely on one eye witness to prosecute a man charged with this crime. Forensics like DNA and other direct evidence would be required. So maybe there is some progress being made in some ways. But there are still too many young black men in prison overcharged with crimes relative to young white men. On that I can certainly agree. And James Baldwin had exceptional writing skills to relate this tale in the distinctive voice of his people.