Usually, when buying books I prefer not to know what it is about, so I can be surprised. This does not always go well but it really worked with this book written by James Baldwin. To my surprise, I was reading a gay tale, that was written in the 50s by a black man, born in the United States.

Writing about hard times

The book focuses on the story of David, who is living in Paris, during the 50’s. David is trying to understand his sexuality while being engaged to Hella, an American woman, but falling in love with Giovanni, an Italian bartender. During this process, Baldwin explores themes such as love and shame, along with social expectations towards people in a very intelligent way.

During the story, the writer explores the conflict David was feeling with himself while trying to be happy with his being, and facing social pressure. Through this process, which we may call “coming out”, Baldwin portrays isolation and even the fear that a person may feel of their true self.

Throughout the story, it is possible to understand that, besides Giovanni wanting to build a future next to David, the protagonist was dealing with internalised homophobia, leading the relationship to face some hard times.

The perfect characters build-up

The main characters of the book are very well constructed, each one of them showing different human emotions, which embodied different experiences. For example, the transformation of David as a human being is very evident. Initially afraid of his desires, he is faced with shame and guilt, caused mainly by the fear of what society would think of him being a gay man, especially while already being engaged to Hella.

Giovanni is very enigmatic. The bartender with whom David falls in love is a very complex character. The writer built-up Giovanni a bit as a tragic figure, showcasing the struggles and challenges for those who belong to a social minority, specifically sexual minorities. The relationship between David and Giovanni is shown to be very passionate, however, still influenced by social norms' impact on an individual’s happiness.

In my opinion, Hella is in the story to portray those social rules that may affect people’s lives, regardless of sexual orientation, race or even gender. In this book, Hella is the outsider to David’s conflict. When the characters interact, it is evident that some constraints were being placed on individuals, leading them to face their desires and choices in life.

Magnificent writing

As a person who likes to read, and write, I must highlight James Baldwin’s writing style in Giovanni’s Room. I did not read any of the other books by the author, but I confess that I was flabbergasted by his writing style in this book. I found it very poetic and profound as well as very emotive, with amazing descriptions. The development of the characters, along with working on their emotions with very different layers, will make any reader completely attached to the story Baldwin is telling.

It is also important to note that Giovanni’s Room was written during the ’50s when being homosexual was not as accepted as nowadays. The writer explored homosexuality and the inner fight that most gay people talk about, in a way that may be relatable for the queer community around the world. While writing the book, James Baldwin was challenging social norms, while creating a space for marginalised people to see their stories told in literature.

Great surprise

For a book that I did not know what was about, I must say that it surprised me a lot. The writing style and the historical development are completely surprising. James Baldwin wrote the book sometime in the 50s, a time when homosexuality was a bigger taboo. It is extraordinary how an author could work this way on a topic that, for the greatest layers of society, was unknown.

Sadly, some parts of the book are still evident in our society. It is known the fears and struggles of the LGBTQ+ community, are linked especially with society's expectations about how people must live their lives.

Giovanni’s Room is certainly a must-read book, as it will help readers understand the struggles and issues this community may face every day in their lives, and how it may affect one of the most important things we have in life: happiness.


Deeply in love with music and with a guilty pleasure in criminal cases, Bruno G. Santos decided to study Journalism and Communication, hoping to combine both passions into writing. The journalist is also a passionate traveller who likes to write about other cultures and discover the various hidden gems from Portugal and the world. Press card: 8463. 

Bruno G. Santos