James Baldwin: Another Country
Baldwin got a certain amount of criticism for this novel as it deals with what were then difficult subjects – bisexuality and interracial relationships. The center of the story is Rufus Scott, a jazz drummer. Jazz and blues are key to this novel (and, indeed, to Baldwin himself). Scott starts an affair with a white woman, Leona, but he is abusive towards her, driving her to a mental hospital. Despite the support of a loving younger sister, Ida, and a group of supportive friends, the writer, Vivaldo More, another writer, Richard Silensky and Richard’s wife, Cass, and Eric, Rufus’ former lover who has been living in France, Rufus’ guilt about Leona and, more particularly, the racism that he has suffered all his life, drive him to throw himself off the George Washington Bridge.
His friends cannot understand his death, though it prompts the other characters to examine their own roles as well as their own relationships. After Rufus’ death, we are left with three major relationships. Ida and Vivaldo (an interracial relationship) start a relationship but it is doomed, not least because Ida blames the white bastards, including Vivaldo, for her brother’s death. She is ambitious, wanting to be a jazz singer, and sleeps with a producer to advance her career. Richard has some success with his novel and neglects Cass, who has a brief affair with Eric. In the second part of the novel, Eric has a happy relationship with Yves but then has the affair with Cass when he returns to the United States. Baldwin leaves us with an open-ended conclusion but, ultimately, he is saying that we need to be honest with ourselves and honest with others and, clearly, the characters in this book have generally failed on both counts. While the book openly confronts bisexuality and racism and, as such, was an important novel, in retrospect it seems an interesting but not a great novel.
First published 1962 by Dial Press