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Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)

de James Baldwin

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James Baldwin's stunning first novel is now an American classic. With startling realism that brings Harlem and the black experience vividly to life, this is a work that touches the heart with emotion while it stimulates the mind with its narrative style, symbolism, and excoriating vision of racism in America. Moving through time from the rural South to the northern ghetto, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy's discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Go Tell it on the Mountain is an unsurpassed portrayal of human beings caught up in a dramatic struggle and of a society confronting inevitable change.

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I think one of the reasons I never ended up reading this one earlier despite reading several of Baldwin's other books is how central faith is in this one, given how it's structured around Johnny's religious awakening and how the middle sections touch on the other characters' faith too. And it's something I cannot really relate to. The middle sections are also a lot of about racism and its impact on people who have no choice but to try to survive through it. But I'm glad to have finally read this one too. ( )
  mari_reads | Feb 6, 2024 |
In the early twentieth century, Harlem was the place to be for black culture. Many had recently moved northward from the South to try out city life. As much as they wanted to reinvent themselves, past culture, built on the Christian Scriptures, remained ever near. In a small Harlem church, a teenage son came to terms with his identity in a relatively short amount of time. This book starts with the beginning of his epiphany, but soon flashes back through decades of family history and turmoil. In the end, James Baldwin returns us to the opening scene as the protagonist truly comes of age and recognizes who he is.

As the title alludes to, this tale spins around the topic of religion. The central character’s acting father Gabriel grew up in the South, son of a newly freed slave. His sister Florence managed to move to New York City while Gabriel stuck around to care for his mom. He was always a ladies’ man, but soon found spiritual rebirth in Christianity. He decides to become a preacher in his community. He still had to work for sustenance, but he sought to pastor people out of their sins and into faith and fervor.

Like many pastors, he seemed to project his past sins onto his audience at church. And like many pastors, he never really escaped his old life, as much as he wanted to. The truth about ourselves is impossible to escape, and to Baldwin, no amount of religious devotion can change essential human nature. Gabriel’s life story unwinds, and decades later, he finds himself in New York City looking for a new life. He marries a lady and adopts her son, the central character as his son. Yet the past still doesn’t remain the past. It never does.

This decades-old story veers into the domain of classics. Baldwin masters the art of long flashbacks and attends to readers’ curiosity by revealing just enough to keep the story going but not enough to solve the entire lot. This book gets pegged into the genre of African-American fiction. It’s that, for sure, but the story defies any one category. Yes, conveying necessary historical information, it peers into African-American life in the century after Emancipation but before the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Yet it also provides a deep religious understanding of how many Americans – and American pastors – operate, of any skin color. While skeptical of religious leadership and authority, Baldwin is not that hostile towards a human leaning into God. I’m glad to have seen Baldwin’s truth in this timeless tale. ( )
  scottjpearson | Jan 25, 2024 |
This is an account of a black boy, John Grimes, living in a family where his stepfather is a minister in a Pentecostal church in Harlem.

It was expected that John become a preacher too, and the book is all about church and singing hymns. I call them hymns but in the book they’re called songs. Songs like “”Down at the cross where my Saviour died!” and “Jesus, I’ll never forget how you set me free!”

There is much emphasis on whether or not people are saved. There are those called “saints” which term, as far as I can see, is never explained; they are living people who are part of John’s community.

Members of the congregation dance until they drop, moaning. “And then a great moaning filled the church.”

This differs from my own experience of a church service.

A pastor called Father James “uncovered sin” in the congregation. One couple, Elisha and Ella Mae, had been “walking disorderly”.

John’s father’s face was “always awful” but when his daily anger was transformed into prophetic wrath, it became even more awful.

John is preoccupied with his sins, whatever these are.

Already from the age of five John was perceived to be very bright and have a great future. He possessed a power that others lacked that he could use to raise himself and perhaps win the love he longed for.

John’s father beat him and ”he lived for the day when his father would be dying and he, John, would curse him on his deathbed”.

John has a brother called Roy and a baby sister, Ruth.

Their mother says “Your Daddy beats you because he loves you”.

John asks his mother if his Daddy is a good man. She answers “That ain’t no kind of question. You don’t know any better man, do you?”

Roy complains that their father doesn’t want them to go to the movies, play in the streets, have any friends, or do anything. He just wants them to go to church and read the Bible and “holler like a fool in front of the altar”.

The dialogue is written in the ungrammatical style which the black Harlem community apparently used, or use, and this makes the book more authentic.

The book is very readable and wonderfully expressed as are all Baldwin’s books; I would have read it to the end had I not had to return it to the library pronto.

It provides insight into the lives of members of the Pentecostal black community and I highly recommend it.
  IonaS | Jul 30, 2023 |
Two hundred and fifteen monotonous pages of sermons, hymns, and Praise-Jesusing, and forty-seven compelling pages called "Elizabeth's Prayer". Deeply unsatisfactory balance, that. ( )
  blueskygreentrees | Jul 30, 2023 |
He held as the first novel about Blacks in America to be written from a non-racial point of view, it represents a significant milestone in the development of American literature. The story is of a day in the life of several members of a Harlem fundamentalist church. Through flashbacks, we witness a saga of three generations of people.
  PendleHillLibrary | Apr 13, 2023 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
James Baldwinautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Bosch, AndrésTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Brown, DanIl·lustradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Cosgrave, John O'HaraIl·lustradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Danticat, EdwidgeIntroduccióautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Dillon, DianeAutor de la cobertaautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Dillon, LeoAutor de la cobertaautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Lazarre-White, AdamNarradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Mandelkow, MiriamTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Mues, WanjaNarradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
O'Hagan, AndrewIntroduccióautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Yentus, HelenDissenyador de la cobertaautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
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For my father and mother
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Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father.
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First edition was in 1953. Corgi editions show copyright date as 1954. The US Catalog of copyright entries for Jan-June 1953 details that application for copyright stated that 'the section "Exodus" appeared in the Aug. 1952 issue of American mercury, and "Roy's wound" in New world writing, 1952'.
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Fiction. Literature. HTML:

James Baldwin's stunning first novel is now an American classic. With startling realism that brings Harlem and the black experience vividly to life, this is a work that touches the heart with emotion while it stimulates the mind with its narrative style, symbolism, and excoriating vision of racism in America. Moving through time from the rural South to the northern ghetto, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy's discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Go Tell it on the Mountain is an unsurpassed portrayal of human beings caught up in a dramatic struggle and of a society confronting inevitable change.

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