If Beale Street Could Talk (James Baldwin)

If Beale Street Could Talk is a novel by James Baldwin.
Finished on: 21.3.2019
[Here’s my review of the movie adaptation.]

Content Note: rape, (critical treatment of) racism

Plot:
Tish and Fonny are young and very in love. But then Fonny gets arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and Tish discovers that she is pregnant. Her joy at expecting a baby from the man she loves pushes her even more to prove his innocence. Fortunately she has her family to support her.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautifully written novel filled with truths that are mentioned so casually you almost miss how wise this book is. There is a lot of tenderness in the book, but the world’s harshness is ever present, making the book weigh more than it may appear at first. I was very impressed.

The book cover showing a black and white photo of a Black kid jumping off a wooden post.

Reading something by Baldwin has been on my list for a long while, and I’m very glad I finally did. If Beale Street Could Talk proves what a formidable writer he is. He knows just how to phrase things to make them both beautiful and true, which is a rare skill.

The book certainly shows how much injustice there is in the world, and how little an individual can do about that. That being said, it is not a hopeless novel and Baldwin gives a clear answer on what to do against injustice. That is, to love. (Inter-)personal love at least gives us the strength to persist despite this injustice.

But the book also realizes that it isn’t all that easy, it isn’t romantic all the way. There were moments I was very uncomfortable with the relationship between Tish and Fonny because there is always a violent undercurrent in Fonny – a violence against Tish – that made me very wary and that wouldn’t want to fit with their otherwise great lovestory.

The ending – left open – is pretty hard to bear and also weighed heavily on my mind, but in a good way. It’s definitely an ending and a book that will stick around in my head.

Summarizing: extremely good.

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