“Another Country” by James Baldwin BOOK REVIEW

Another Country

Year of Publication: 2001 (first published in 1962).

Publisher: Penguin Classics

ISBN: 9780141186375

Strong Point: The description of the 50s American underground music scene and of the different types who formed part of it.

Weak Point: I simply have not found any so far…

Books on Tour Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5/5)

Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4.29/5)


WHAT IT SAYS IN THE BLURB:

When Another Country appeared in 1962 it caused a literary sensation: among the storm of reviews the Sunday Times said: “Let our novelists read Mr Baldwin and tremble. There is a whirlwind loose in the land.”

This mastery story of desire, hatred and violence opens with the unforgettable character of Rufus Scott, a scavenging Harlem Jazz musician adrift in New York. Self-destructive, bad and brilliant, he draws us into a bohemian underworld pulsing with heat, music and sex, where desperate and dangerous characters betray, love and test each other to the limit.

REVIEW OF “ANOTHER COUNTRY”:

James Baldwin is one of those authors I have always wanted to read but for whom, for one reason or another, I never find the time.

“Another Country” had been sitting in my shelves for too long. But because of the Black Lives Matter movement, I decided that June 2020 would be the perfect time to read it. I know that this book is fiction, and that one of the best ways to educate ourselves about racism is to read non-fiction books…but this was the book I had available.

And what a book…

I have discovered a writer with such a mastery of language, such use of words, such lyricism and poetry in his sentences, that I cannot wait to read the rest of his books.

THE STORY

Baldwin tells us the story of Rufus, a Black musician who lives in New York in the 1950s. Very soon in the story, we know that he commits suicide although we do not know exactly why.

In comes Rufus’ sister, Ida, who travels to New York looking for his brother after she cannot contact him. She manages to find Rufus’ best friend Vivaldo and tries to find what has happened to Rufus.

However, unfortunately, they find Rufus’ body in the waters of the river.

This is the central action of the book, but it is much more than this. We learn about the situation of Black people in the 50s in America; how White people saw interracial couples, and Blacks too; how people treated gays at that time; we learn about infidelity, envy, lost opportunities, pain, suffering…

Baldwin also serves us with a group of very interesting secondary characters like Cass & Richard, a couple who are friends with Rufus and Vivaldo, and who are suffering their own decline.

We also read about Eric, the former “friend” of Rufus. When the book starts, he is in France with his boyfriend Yves, but travels later alone to New York to play in the theatre. His arrival dusts off old sufferings and painful memories…

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

The whole book is a masterpiece that shows us how to play with the different interpersonal relationships of the whole cast of characters (primaries as well as secondaries).

We see relationships of power between Rufus and Eric, as well as between Ida, Vivaldo and the producer Steve Ellis; pitiful associations between Cass, Richard and Eric. And, of course, that friendly connection between Rufus and Vivaldo, behind which we could sense something else…

“Another Country” shows all the possible complexities and different aspects of these interpersonal relationships. They are all explained with such a precision and such amount of details, that when I finished the book, it seemed as if I personally knew all the characters. Even more, I want to continue knowing about them.

MEANINGUL TOPICS

“Another Country” addresses such important and up-to-date topics such as racism, inter-racial marriages, homosexuality and bi-sexuality. The text shows us how these topics were treated in the United States in the 1950s. Unfortunately, most of them are treated the same way in the 21st century, and not only in the United States. In some other parts of the world are tolerated (although in my opinion only “in the surface”). And in some other parts, they are not tolerated at all but even prosecuted as crimes.

FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT “ANOTHER COUNTRY”

This book is still quite present in the (awful) year 2020 when I am writing this review. All the discussions it must have caused when it was published, are quite present in the society of today.

For that reason I highly recommend “Another Country”. As a White European woman, there are subtleties connected with racism that I would never get. But this book has opened my eyes to them.

Plus Baldwin’s prose is just…perfect.


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