Admittedly, I had my reservations about this book – the blurb on the back cover said that author James Baldwin focuses mainly on politics (racism, in particular) and religion throughout the story, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out this was not exactly the case.
First of all, I really enjoyed the way the book was put together. The first chapter introduces the main characters briefly, through the eyes of John Grimes, a 14 year-old black boy in the early 20th century that appears to be going through the great confusion normally associated with puberty.
His initial interactions with his mother, his younger brother, and his father show a one-sided view of desperate longing and belonging as John tries to come to terms with the fierce love and passionate hatred he feels for the different members his family.
His aunt Florence is also introduced in the first chapter, as John carefully dusts her photograph on the mantelpiece.
Now, the next three chapters are where it gets interesting. Although not written first person, the next three chapters focus on John’s aunt Florence, his father Gabriel, and mother Elizabeth in turn. Do me favour – before you get put off by the book (it was a bit discouraging in the beginning) read at least until you are done with Florence’s Prayer (Chapter 2).
In these three chapters, we discover a lot about these three characters which is important in understanding John.
Also, reading further, I came to realise the book was not about racism (although it does feature in the book, it is subtle) but rather about the betrayal of loved ones and racism within the black community.
Furthermore, although religion is a main focus of the book, Baldwin illustrates how the way religion is preached and followed can sometimes do more wrong than good.
Basically, it is about human fallacy in its rawest form and the forgiveness that comes with love.
I’d give it a 8/10. My favourite this year so far.