Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
James Baldwin was a massively phenomenal writer, and this novel is just one of many testaments to this. He so skillfully melds beautiful, vivid imagery with such brutal context - like a sprinkling of sugar for a painfully bitter medicine. Baldwin is renowned for this brutal honesty, particularly when it comes to his analyses of race, class, sexuality and religion. This is exactly what you'll get in this novel.
This novel is intense, which made it difficult to read at points. It is heavy on the religious imagery, and for a no-longer-Christian, it was enough to make my eyes glaze over at points. But a lot of it had to do with the intensity with which it was all delivered. In too many ways, this novel, its characters and their stories, were all too familiar. This is a novel about the unholy lives of the holy. About the futility of running from one's demons, about the desperate seeking of salvation from one's sins, and the way these demons, in spite of prayer, can be passed unabated from one generation to the next.
Baldwin's writing is all at once subtle and straightforward. You won't find heart-thumping plot twists or a whole lot of excitement. What you'll find is pain laid bare. Yet at the same time, there are moments when you'll undoubtedly feel a mass of emotion get caught in your throat, particularly as the novel progresses from the slow simmer of unfolding the characters' background stories to the rolling boil of internal tensions coming to a head. So much is contained in the very little that actually happens.
The ending left me feeling nervous, and I think this is what Baldwin intended. In very many ways he was holding up a mirror to American society. We know these stories, we know these characters, because they are our friends and family, and we also know, in an uneasy way, that their stories don't end well. Baldwin had no intention of wrapping this novel up in a pretty bow. It was meant to leave you feeling raw, pensive, and unsettled. Nevertheless, it is a journey worth taking.
View all my reviews