Friday, March 13, 2015

Go Tell It on the Mountain - James Baldwin

Go Tell It on the Mountain
Title: Go Tell It on the Mountain
Author: James Baldwin
Publication Date: 1953
Pages: 256
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 2/9/15

Summary: John Grimes is a teenage boy in 1930s Harlem being raised in a strict Pentecostal family. His moment of conversion is punctuated by the backstories of his aunt, step-father, and mother, each of whom have a hidden past. 

What I Thought: At the beginning, I struggled with this book. Reading a book which centers largely around the hypocrisy of believers is not the easiest thing to do as a believer. Don't get me wrong. I think Christians have a tendency to be some of the most hypocritical people on the planet. But it's still hard to look the downfallings of my own people head on. 

Once the story transitioned away from John, the young boy struggling with his own spiritual identity, and into the stories of his elders, I became much more engaged. Suddenly, the story seemed less about hypocrisy and more about human fallibility. The strict parental figures now seemed to be desperately trying to protect the young people from making the same mistakes they did. Of course, they go about it in the wrong way, but that's about as accurate a portrayal for which anyone could ask.

I felt like I read this book differently because of my faith (shouldn't everything feel that way?). I could connect with the characters in a different way than, I imagine, most readers. I also saw the Scripture interspersed throughout the stories in a different way because of my own church upbringing and education. I'm not sure my perception of all this is what Baldwin intended, but I was happy to recognize the lens through which I read and appreciate its influence. 

Apparently, Baldwin wrote this book as a largely autobiographic look at his own childhood. Knowing that makes me a little sad for him, as John never really seems to be happy, even after his conversion experience at the end of the book. It also makes me want to know more about his life and whether or not he ever came to terms with his spiritual upbringing. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: I'm on the fence. Probably not, but maybe for some academic reason in the future.

A Reduced Review: Most beautiful when read as a story of human fallibility and how we try to overcome our faults through the next generation. 

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