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I bought and read this on the back of Giovanni's Room which is one of my favourite books of all time. I found this to be just as good, dealing with issues of sexuality with subtlety and deftness. The characterisation and narratives are stunning. I learned a lot about the ways in which the Southern Blacks viewed the Northern Blacks in the States - something which I was unaware of and found facscinating. Stylistically, Baldwin would make a brilliant subject for further or deeper study; his peculiarities of syntax and structure are something you'll either love or find frustrating. So why no five stars - I found some of the philosophising passages dull and ponderous. The actual novel at 600 words could have been more rigourously edited - although I'm not adverse to a good long one, this stretched me slightly... and I actually wanted it to finish. If the emphasis had stayed more with the narrative, the stories of peanut and Crunch for example in the way that the characterisation was detailed and fluid in 'Just Above My Head', I would have been more satisfied. Try the latter first - it's more condensed and immediate with just the right mixture of horror and beauty. All this aside, Baldwin is my find of the decade so far and the elements which prevented me from awarding this five stars will certainly not prevent me from investigating this long lost genius further. I'm amazed he's not famous, or that the narratives haven't been converted into film - perhaps symptomatic of a world which despite a superficiality of acceptance, still prefers 'gay lite' and 'black lite'.
...but not the last after this amazing journey where love and family are central to survival in the exploration of who one really is a world that still does not take kindly to difference. I could not put this book down.
This is my favorite book by my favorite author, so I won't pretend to be objective. This was a replacement copy as I loaned my previous copy to a friend, who never returned it. It is a great book and number one on my nursing home list. I was looking at "The Last Interview" last night and in an interview with Quincy Troupe, Baldwin referred to a lawsuit over it. I will have to check that out!
James Baldwin was a marvelous writer. Like Tennessee Williams in the theatre, as a novelist Baldwin was also a poet. In JUST ABOVE MY HEAD, his prose has a musical cadence that fits particularly well with the main plot line about a Black gay Gospel singer named Arthur Montana and his loving and protective family.
Narrated in the first person by Arthur's older brother Hall, this is an epic story of a life fully lived, beginning in the period between World War II and Korea and continuing right through the horrors of the Civil Rights struggle of the Sixties.
In addition to the Montana family, Baldwin peoples his novel with a large cast of vivid characters: Red, Crunch, and Peanut, who with Arthur form the first Gospel quartet to appear on the scene while Arthur is just fifteen, and the Miller family, friends of the Montanas whose nine-year-old daughter Julia is a child evangelist at the beginning of the story.
Julia is one of the most fascinating female characters in Twentieth Century literature; starting out as a child preacher (and a spoiled brat at home), she endures the premature death of her mother and the horror of incest at the hands of her father, and even spends some time as a prostitute before finally making use of the fact that she grows up beautiful to become a successful model.
Yet it is still Arthur who is the center of the story; while he never seems troubled by his sexuality, he does worry about being judged by those he loves; this makes accepting love something of a struggle for him.
The miracle of this novel is that every character is fully fleshed out and given a complete back story, a rarity in a novel with such a large cast of characters. And this, coupled with Baldwin's soaring, lyrical narrative, makes JUST ABOVE MY HEAD a unique experience that will stay with you long after you read it.
Tops the list of my all time favorite novels. I could read this book cover to cover every year (and I do). I bought this copy as a gift for a friend, who had lost their copy. The only complaint is the print size is kinda small. As senior citizens, this can put a bit of a strain on the eyes, but it is a strain that is worth it.
I read this book many years ago,and lost it somewhere. Baldwin captured my attention when I was quite young,and I am getting back into his writing.again. A cliche,but ...he is one of the finest American writers of the 20th century.