In this honest and stunning novel, now a major motion picture directed by Barry Jenkins, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice.
Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old woman, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.
I’ve had this book on my TBR for ages. What moved it up on my list, was the adaption of it done by the brilliant Barry Jenkins (Moonlight). I haven’t watched the film, because I always want to read a book before I see any adaption. So now I can go ahead and watch the movie. YAY!!
James Baldwin wrote this book while in exile in France in 1973, it was his fifth novel at that time. When it was published in 1975, it did not do well. The critics were hard on it for its content and what it signified. It’s written by a brilliant mind that will never be forgotten. This is not the first James Baldwin book that I have read.
This is one of those books that will either bring you to your knees, the love between the couple Tish and Fonny is heartwrenching in its telling. Or it can make you straighten your spine, face forward and keep going, the heartbreak is felt, leaping off the pages, breathing in your face like a living thing. It is also a journey into the racial loss of innocence.
“Of course, I must say that I don’t think America is God’s gift to anybody—if it is, God’s days have got to be numbered.”
The story is set in Harlem in the early 1970s. It focuses on a young couple Tish and Fonny. But both sides of the families of the couple are prominent throughout. Tish is nineteen and Fonny is 22 years-old. The book is narrated in first-person by the protagonist Tish, it is a story told within the present with flashbacks throughout.
Tish tells us her story in a way that made me feel like I was sitting beside her as goes through the pieces of her life with Fonny from childhood to adulthood. It is a story that we’ve all come to know in different ways, whether by from a distance (watching the news etc.) or personal (perhaps you know someone). It is a story that has transcends time and is as relevant today as it was in the 1970s. Most of all this is a love story, which shows us that even in times of adversity it can be an unbreakable bond in the best possible way. After all, “Romeo and Juliet” by their neighbors and friends.
I love the part where Tish is telling us about the moment they realize they were meant for each other. You see, they’ve known each other since childhood. So sweet! Bit of a spoiler?
“He said, not moving, “we’re grown up now, you know?”
I nodded. He said, “And you’ve always been – mine – no?”
I nodded again. “And you know, “he said, still not moving, holding me with those eyes, “that I’ve always been yours, right?”
Throughout it all there’s some serious drama that unfolds. Tish’s sister Ernestine is the best, that girl stands up for her little sister in the most relatable of ways, she’ll also have you laughing your ass off almost every time she pops up.
I think this book is showing us what it’s like to see the two sides of the same coin, the love and struggle the couple and those around them faces, the progress made and the damnable setup backs that always step in their way. It is at once a tragic and hopeful story.
After reading this book, though heavy for the most part, it will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. I highly recommend it to all readers.
Now a major motion picture!
Watch the trailer for If Beale Street Could Talk
Title: If Beale Street Could Talk
Author: James Baldwin
Genre: Fiction / Romance / African American / Urban
Fiction / Family Life / Literary
Originally published: June 17, 1974
Number of Pages: 197
Categories: Book Review