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I'll keep this short, but I think this is a truly brilliant book whose greatest strength, for me, lies in the depiction of relationships between the two young lovers and their respective families. 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.
Had I had the time over the last few days, I would have wanted to gobble up this amazing piece of writing on one sitting. It's that good! The narrative concentrates tightly on two people, a young woman and man who have dreams and the simple aspiration of living together and make some of those dreams happen. The main crux though is that they are African Americans in the 1970s, that they've grown up in poor circumstances and that racial hatred is rife. There is no justice protecting the falsely accused Fonny and no peace for Tish who is carrying a child by the time he's incarcerated for a rape allegation.
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.
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.
This was a beautifully written book. It was so unlike anything I have read before. Wonderful to see the world from somebody else’s perspective and gain insight into what life is life for people who are marginalised and fighting prejudice.
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.
Completely un put downable, this book charts the impact of being accused and imprisoned for rape on a young black man and his fiancée and their families. The book is as old as I am and what’s horrifying is that reading the news it seems like little has changed for black Americans and the legal system.