Another Daughter Another Book
Book Review-Go Tell it on the Mountain
My daughters are book readers and as I oscillate between the homes of my children I get to read the books they are constantly ordering online. In Bengaluru I got the chance to read Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin. My daughter ordered it on the recommendation of Oprah Winfrey who had Maya Angelou(who called James Baldwin “a friend and brother”) as a guest on one of her web talks.
This just shows how linked our lives have become through the social media.
Literature is really a personal mirror held up to a book. How much of a book like Go Tell it on the Mountain can I understand sitting here in India? Of course I have some Bible beginnings because of my schooling and Gospel music because of my listening habits and Hollywood movies. That is as close I can get to a century old yet relevant story of Harlem, New York of 1918 around which this story revolves. Darryl Pinckney has called the book a “meeting of Henry James, the Bible and Harlem.”
It is a book steeped in African American church life and city life Christianity. A New York book but without the modern trimmings of white life. It is a black dark book full of Christian guilt. A story set in Harlem, a hundred years ago. A story of the early twentieth century. It is surprising to see the on-going misery of African Americans; the white police brutality on blacks. There are no white men in this book except the policemen or the unseen owners of a farm where Esther works. No white men to redeem Christian glory. It fills me with wonder at the thrall Jesus Christ holds for African people of all nature. It is just a tribute to the missionaries, the circumstances of the slave trade and the religion itself. It is disturbing to see how old the poor African American suffering is in US style apartheid. The Church is the only solace for the people of this book. It is surprising to rediscover the love for a fair white Christ in Black people. No wonder the Bible is called the greatest story ever told.
“Go tell it on the mountain” is another Bible novel that anyone with a love for the Book cannot ignore. It is writing of a high spiritual and technical level. The treatment of past and present characters with flashbacks is so ultra modern though it was written more than half a century ago.
“To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
This is also a father-son book and elsewhere Baldwin says, ‘if the relationship of father to son could really be reduced to biology, the whole earth would blaze with the glory of fathers and sons.’
This is definitely an Our Father story. Very surprising for a man who did not consider himself religious in later life. He accuses Christianity of being a method of soothing the pains caused by white oppression.
This book is truly autobiographical but it leaves us at a spot where the hero still believes in God. This was his first novel and was written in France where he had self-exiled himself from an unfair to blacks America.
Look at the hatred here– “She looked out into the quiet, sunny streets, and for the first time in her life, she hated it all-the white city, the white world. She could not, that day, think of one decent white person in the whole world. She sat there, and she hoped that one day God, with tortures inconceivable would grind them utterly into humility, and make them know that black boys and black girls, whom they treated with such condescension, such disdain, and such good humour had hearts like human beings too, more human hearts than theirs.”