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Wednesday, 2 March 2016

New and notable: A new edition of James Baldwin's classic Go Tell it on the Mountain

What a treat to start off the month of March with this sweet new edition of James Baldwin's Go Tell it on the Mountain, out this week from Everyman's Library. This semi-autobiographical debut novel tells the story of just one day in the life of the protagonist, John Grimes, a young African-American boy on his fourteenth birthday. Though the timespan is so short, Baldwin manages to construct a successful bildungsroman as he follows John around the streets of depression-era Harlem.

Through the coming of age narrative, Baldwin sheds light on the paradoxical position that religion plays in the lives of the black community; John faces abuse from his Pentecostal preacher stepfather, but also finds the capacity for spiritual renewal through the Church. Burgeoning sexuality and spiritual awakening collide in John's life at adolescence, and the connections between religion, desire and sexuality become a common thread throughout Baldwin's career.

The Pentecostal Church is not the only institution that receives some scalding criticism in this novel. John's struggles are largely due to the poverty and racism in which his family is enmired. These were problems that Baldwin himself was intimately familiar with, having grown up in a similar environment to the one depicted in the book, as the stepson of a preacher and the grandson of a slave. The legacy of America's racist history is far from over, and Baldwin's rage resonates as clearly today as it did when the novel was originally published over 60 years ago.

If you haven't read this American classic, or if you're due for a re-read, now is a great time to add Go Tell it on the Mountain to your collection. This new edition boasts a great introduction by Edwidge Danticat, as well as the fine design sensibilities common to Everyman's Press. An escape from this lousy Smarch weather is at your fingertips with a new book!  

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