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This was a slow read. In terms of pages and words it was a small book, but the river was deep and fierce. Baldwin is throwing out big themes on family, religion, race, sex. This isn’t a beach read, it is a hard pew read in an unconditioned, hellfire and damnation church. I would read 40 pages and have to take a day to recover emotionally.
THIS book is why I read fiction. Look. I am white on white, again and again. Seriously, I took the Twenty-Three&Me DNA spit test and I am pretty deep into the white gene hole. How else, besides brilliant narrative fiction, am I going to understand anything about being black or being a black pentecostal WITHOUT reading Baldwin?
Baldwin’s use of repetition was amazing. I haven’t read recently (other than Moby-Dick) a novel that appears to be made, brick-by-brick, with more King James Bible pieces than Go Tell It on the Mountain. There are some novels where writer ties off every narrative thread. Baldwin wasn’t satisfied with that. Each sad string in this novel seemed to end up threaded through some part of my heart and knotted around some raw edge of my soul.
“Go Tell It on the Mountain” because God is not there. “Go Tell It on the Mountain” because no one listens. “Go Tell It on the Mountain” because no one cares. James Baldwin rages against culture that makes one, what one is not. Baldwin wins fame from a book that defines the chains of discrimination. He explains why and how culture is a curse. Baldwin tells a story that explains why being different denies equal opportunity.
Being smart or being religious is not enough; particularly if you are a minority or a woman because cultures stultify individuality and restrict opportunity. Women, in Baldwin’s novel, are at once the saviors of black men and unwitting perpetuators of an unjust culture; i.e. women support their mates while accepting the delusion of a vengeful God that will punish evil; if not now, in an afterlife. The consequence in this earthly life is the perpetuation of inequality.
Individuality and opportunity are hindered by poor education and biases that are eternally engendered (institutionalized) by discrimination. Blacks have shown they are more than criminals, preachers, sports stars, and entertainers. And women have shown they are more than child bearers and housewives but America continues to struggle with equal opportunity for all. Baldwin exemplifies America’s struggle in “Go Tell It on the Mountain”.
James Baldwin is an icon of the Civil Rights movement and one of the greatest intellectuals America has ever cultivated. Go tell it on the Mountain is Baldwin’s semi-autobiographical novel and it provides more insight into the man than even some of his (also brilliant) essays.
Fair warning: Baldwin wasn’t known for holding back when discussing some of the more gruesome parts of Black history so some of this is not for the feint of heart. That said, Baldwin’s views on Christian spirituality in the Black community is equally powerful and unforgettable. Finally, Adam Lazarre-White’s narration is spot on. Beyond highly recommended.