A novel by James Baldwin
“The black mans hope for the white American” – Source Unknown
When I was first introduced to James Baldwin, he was described as the provocative black author of the 50s and 60s. I went full steam ahead and immersed myself into his work. For me he was by no means provocative, he was a man that seemed to have captured the mood of the time and many would say it’s still the mood of today. In his book, Another Country, Badwin tells the story of a group of friends, liberals, sexually charged, in their twenty somethings, during the late 50s or early 60s.
The story is centred around the suicide of Rufus, a black man that was loved amongst his liberal group of white friends. Yet during the last years of his life, he was disliked due to his abusive relationship with a southern girl. His friends mourn his death as does his sister, Ida. Ida soon forms a relationship with one of his closest friends, Vivaldo.
His friends still stand in judgement of Rufus’ abusive relationship, able to clearly differentiate right from wrong. But his sister, a black woman, can only apply context and her own experience. And Ida loved her brother dearly and now he is dead.
Ida has hate in her soul, but she loves Vivaldo, a white man. Vivaldo is what everything she wants, but everything she has learned to hate. The love between Vivaldo and Ida is genuine, but this purity is ebbed away during the course of the novel.
It can only be my own commentary that I apply to this review, when I talk about the back and white. Vivaldo is fed up of the “you white people” that he is constantly reminded of it. And Ida is fed up of having never been quite understood, as it’s everything she is. They are living the lives that they had no say in. It’s history that has brought these young people to that particular point in time, and it’s the reality that they are now living through.
In an interview, Baldwin says that it was a complete surprise to him that black people are not completely living in paranoia. However, it’s society and history that has pressed itself up against these young group of friends and its through paranoia, that they live and love.
The novel seems to reference age a lot. In one moment a character is “so terribly young and frightened” and then through a different glare of light, they managed to look old. It’s the turn of being twenty to thirty, from “losing your last traces of being a girl”. This seems to be the reoccurring theme. It’s the naive outlook to the mature reality.
So Baldwin, the provocateur, is by no means provocative . It’s the quote above, source unknown, which seems to describe him well. It’s a terrible quote, full of assumption, and I doubt Baldwin would have been impressed by it, but somehow it describes his work.
He seems to loom above and he pities these lives. These terribly lost twenty something liberals, both black and white. Baldwin manages to say everything and nothing at all. He never tells you exactly what the deal is, it’s not a stamp of what racial prejudice is, bold and defined. It’s is actually something more sweeping, a wave, lucid and lost.
The novel ends with Yves, newly arriving to America to join his lover, Eric. He is younger, he is innocent, and he is hopeful. Is he the hope for the future, or is he just what these group of friends once were.