Book Reviews: The Fire Next Time

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Fire Next Time
by James Baldwin

Baldwin’s slim book about race problems in America provides a powerful picture of the tumultuous time period he was living in. It begins with a line from an old slave song, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time.” He goes on to talk about how black and white people in America are picking each other apart and destroying themselves in the process.

Baldwin wrote this in 1963, while the nation was embroiled in the Civil Rights movement. His thoughts on the matter are both universal and deeply personal. He manages capture the feelings of many African Americans at that time, frustration and anger at a world filled with injustice, and blend them with his own cry for a peaceful persistence as they fight for equality.

He wrote much of this book to encourage his nephew and convince him that he shouldn’t see himself as unworthy because white people may treat him that way. This is my first taste of Baldwin and while I was impressed by his writing style, I’ve heard his fiction is even better.

“It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate.”


Jessica said...

I have Giovanni's Room on my TBR list which s also a very slim book but is fiction so I'll let you know how I get on with that one once I eventually get around to reading it.

mari said...

I don't think I've read this work by Baldwin, so I am going to look into it. Here's something interesting: my father-in-law went to hear Baldwin speak in the 60s (I don't recall what year) in Oslo, Norway. He said he still vividly remembers the event and looks back on it as one of the most interesting he's ever attended.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jessica - Giovanni's Room was next on my list from Baldwin. I'm interested to see how his fiction is compared to this.

Mari - That's amazing! Isn't it wonderful that an experience like that has stayed with him for so long. There are so many deceased authors that I wish I could have met, but at least I can meet them vicariously through their work.

Amanda said...

I plan to read something by Baldwin in 2011, but it will definitely be fiction as I'm not a big nonfiction person. Still trying to decide between Go Tell it on the Mountain and Giovanni's Room though.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Amanda - I've heard both are good and plan to read one of the two in 2011 as well.