Another Country - James Baldwin

I recently saw the documentary “James Baldwin: The Price of a Ticket”. It’s an older doc, recently restored and presumably released to generate interest in Baldwin before “I am not Your Negro” is released in more theatres. 

It rekindled my interest in an author I adored in high school/ early university. I realized I’d read his essays, but never his novels (of which there are many). Another Country is one of his best-known novels, and it’s generally considered a masterpiece. It’s one of those rare books that I think everyone should read, not because they'll love it but because it’s so provocative book that it’s worth some bandwidth.

It’s hard to explain without giving away key plot points/ surprises, but the book has different sections - it doesn’t end the way that it begins. Stuff and characters change. 

The dominant theme, of course, is race. There’s also an exploration of love and human connection, particularly love as it relates to minorities (race, class, gender, sexuality). 

There’s something for the brooding poet:

He had often thought of his loneliness, for example, as a condition which testified to his superiority.


The aim of the dreamer, after all, is merely to go on dreaming and not to be molested by the world. His dreams are his protection against the world. But the aims of life are antithetical to those of the dreamer, and the teeth of the world are sharp.

There’s exploration of male/ female power:

“No,” he said, frankly, “I don’t. I don’t believe all this female intuition shit. It’s something women have dreamed up.”
“You can say that— and in such a tone!” She mimicked him: “Something women have dreamed up. But I can’t say that— what men have ‘dreamed up’ is all there is, the world they’ve dreamed up is the world.”
He laughed. She subsided.
“Well. It’s true.”

There’s violence and tragedy, but there’s also hope:

... if you can get through the worst, you’ll see the best.

There are a few aspects of the book that are out-of-place in 2017. The fact that the entire book is about 4 chapters long makes it a little challenging to read on the subway. The fact that most of the characters are largely unlikeable will be tough for some readers (I subscribe to the notion that an author can write about unlikeable people without actually endorsing them). And the focus on characters over plot/ events is very much of its time (something I love but harder to get into for the whizz-bang-video-game-movie-app-blinky-blink-era). But honestly, there’s a lifetime of provocative thoughts and perspectives to discover in Another Country.

Haven't seen this yet: In his new film, director Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished - a radical narration about race in America, using the writer's original words. He draws upon James Baldwin's notes on the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.