Posted in Fiction

Another Country by James Baldwin

During a scene in James Baldwin’s Another Country, Vivaldo Moore gets high on a New York City rooftop with some people he just met and makes this observation:

The sky looked, now, like a vast and friendly ocean, in which drowning was forbidden, and the stars seemed stationed there, like beacons. To what country did this ocean lead? for oceans always led to some great good place: hence, sailors, missionaries, saints, and Americans.

Amidst a group of friends in Greenwich Village, Harlem and Paris, France, Baldwin lays bare the racial and sexual landscape of late 1950’s New York City which isn’t really that much different from the America of today.

In smokey bars, bistros and bedrooms, these characters have some of the most honest and viscerally raw conversations I’ve read in a long time – its an honesty that cuts so deep its difficult to not feel the pain of everyone regardless of race, gender and sexuality.

The rocky interracial relationship between Vivaldo and singer Ida Scott is interspersed with music from Bessie Smith’s blues to Mahalia Jackson’s gospel of which many of the lyrics talk of a better place than these current situations which is possibly where the title of the novel comes from. They are all looking for another country where differences don’t tear people apart.

Whether this country is physically geographical or spiritually in another realm is scattered throughout the characters’ conversations and Ida’s singing. Both concepts are brought together at the novel’s end when Eric’s French boyfriend, Yves, lands in the Big Apple:

…even his luggage belonged to him again, and he strode through the barriers, more high-hearted than he had ever been as a child, into that city which the people from heaven had made their home.

The novel references numerous song lyrics of which one is “Up Above My Head” written by Sister Rosetta Tharpe:

Up above my head, I hear music in the air
Up above my head, I hear music in the air
Up above my head, I hear music in the air
I really do believe, I really do believe there’s a Heaven somewhere…

Check out Rhiannon Gidden’s amazing version of this song right here. And also check out Baldwin’s amazing and highly relevant novel.

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