Book Review: Go Tell it on the Mountain-James Baldwin

 

51eZsnTQAHL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Baldwin debuts his first novel in 1952 with his piece titled Go Tell it on the Mountain. It is everything and then some,  and the gravity of the subject matter stills plays an important part into today’s history. Creating a religious narrative, the reader is able to have a particular view of the African American community that is seldom discussed or written about. Go Tell it on the Mountain is a peek into the heavily religious community of African Americans during the early 20th century, 1935 to be exact. Baldwin uses a fourteen year old boy as the vessel into which religion is poured into. He explores the inner battle and war religion causes on one’s self. . Fast forward to now, Go Tell it on the Mountain is much more than a simple story about a black boy growing up in 1930’s in Harlem. Baldwin raises many questions on morality, how Americans view themselves, and the influence of religion on one’s life. How does religion add to the development of character and one’s self? This novel is important and to be read.

But he did not long for the narrow way where all his people walked; where the houses did not rise, piercing as it seemed, the unchanging clouds…only humiliation ; there awaited him, one day, a house like his father’s house, and a church like his father’s….

As stated before, the setting is 1935 Harlem, New York. A young boy by the name of John is the stepson on his preacher and evangelist father Gabriel Grimes. At a young age,  John is confronted with the heavy religious influence that is placed on him by all the people surrounding him, most notably his father.  John must decide on what path his chooses for his life: one of religion or one of “sin” as his father would suggest. The inner turmoil of religion within John’s exploration of himself, is a clear definitive of Baldwin’s social commentary on the black community. The novel breaks into what are backstories of each of the character’s life. Baldwin uses religion as the centerfold of the character’s life. Throughout the novel, the fire that is softly lit and barely burns our fingers, comes into a full blaze by the end of novel, tempting us (and the characters) to either hold on and let the flame ignite or to fiercely and surely put the flame to its’ death.

As for my review of this novel….I’ve read shorter works by Baldwin but this was my first full novel by him that I read. Baldwin always has something perspective to say, and I’m always in revere in how great of a writer he is. I enjoyed this novel, as I think it says a lot about how religion can have a deep influence in our life. Baldwin takes the life, the words, the breath of his real to life characters and transfers it unto the pages beautifully. Even though I didn’t like some of the characters, mainly the father, Gabriel, I still felt the depth of each and every character. Baldwin questions religion without inherently saying that it’s bad or good. There were so many moments in the text where I felt for John the protagonist and towards the end, I was left feeling like I too had come through a “spiritual awakening” that Baldwin illuminates. Go Tell it on the Mountain is heavy even for its 262 pages. This isn’t a book you gently read on the beach and proceed to place back in your woven beach bag without a second thought. This is a book you read and then ruminate over for some hours, carefully peeling through the pages., resting on words spoken by the voice of the author. This novel is a classic, timeless, even epic read. I highly recommended this novel, but be prepared to leave with much more than you came with.

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