Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 2003

Back Catalogue

A chance for readers to dust off a favourite older volume that’s given them pleasure and to share their enthusiasm with the rest of us.

Another Country, by James Baldwin

reviewed by Ted McFadyen

James Baldwin, the American gay black writer (1924-67), is probably best known to gays for his novel Giovanni’s Room, a searing description of a relationship between a buttoned-down, sexually confused American and a young streetwise Italian boy in Paris. It was courageously frank for its time.

But my favourite Baldwin novel has always been Another Country. Written some years after Giovanni’s Room, it is an altogether more ambitious work, painted on a broad canvas and exploring, with masterly fluency, themes of race, class and – not least – sexuality.

Located mostly in New York in the 1960s, the novel sets up an antithesis between the two radically different worlds of Harlem – black, underprivileged and aggressive (in which Baldwin himself was brought up), and the comfortable, bohemian and sexually ambiguous Greenwich Village. His finely drawn characters, black and white, generate a sharp creative tension as they move between these two very different milieux. It is relevant that Baldwin was writing only a few years after the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s, which exposed to the world America’s appalling treatment of its black population.

James Baldwin’s prose is dazzlingly articulate, and his analysis of relationships is both penetrating and tender; his characters are vividly memorable. Nothing, to my mind, illustrates all these qualities more clearly than his haunting description of the love affair between the French boy Yves and his partner Eric – one of the most moving and sensitive evocations of gay love that I have ever read. Another Country is worth reading for this alone.

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Created : Sunday, 2003-05-11 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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