Friday, June 23, 2017

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017: Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

For the 20th Century Classic category of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 hosted by the blog Books and Chocolate, I read James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain, which is a twofer for me, since it is also included on the Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth century, which I am slowly making my way through. 

After reading this book, I can see why Baldwin’s writing is revered and the Modern Library included him on their list. This was a very immersive and intense read.  It is written in an almost rhythmic way and as other readers have noted elsewhere, Baldwin uses the cadence of Pentecostal preaching to great effect; it is kind of mesmerizing.   When I finished the book, I had a real urge listen to the title hymn which remember learning elementary school, so I youtubed a version of it.

There is very little story, rather Go Tell it on the Mountain is a character study and largely based on Baldwin’s own childhood and family.  There is young John (a stand in for Baldwin), who has just turned 14, his overburdened mother, his abusive lay-preacher father and his father’s bitter older sister, Aunt Gloria.  Baldwin gets in to the heads of each character, giving the reader an insight into their history, their psyche and their motivations, for better or for worse. 

I think there are a lot of take-aways from a book as rich as this one, but for me I appreciated the insight into the black experience in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century, when slavery was still a living memory for some and for the role the church and religion can play in one’s life; how it can be a solace and a balm for some and a vindication for self-righteousness for others.  

6 comments:

  1. Baldwin has written so many books and I haven't read any of them. But I feel like I should. I'm glad to know his writing style is mesmerizing and readable. Gives me hope. :)

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    1. Thanks for the comment Lark! I really want to try his novel Giovanni's Room next. And I have been recommended to also try his short story Sonny's Blues. I have heard they are even better than his debut novel.

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  2. I haven't read any of his books either, but lately I've read a couple of books that have a similar theme of black experience in the US. Actually, your comments could describe parts of a book I've almost finished, 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack.'So many similarities.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Carol! I have wanted to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack for a while. I just need the kick in the pants to pick it up. The ability to see into a world, society, ethic group etc. through reading is what makes it such an amazing pastime. And for me, usually more powerful than film or T.V.

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  3. I finally got a copy of this classic, but haven't read it yet. Your review tells me I would like it--from the rhythm and structure. Sounds powerful. Great review.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Jane! I hope you do enjoy this book. I really look forward to checking out more of Baldwin's works in future.

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