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Book Club Kits: Giovanni's Room

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

Set among the bohemian bars and nightclubs of 1950s Paris, this groundbreaking novel about love and the fear of love is "a book that belongs in the top rank of fiction" (The Atlantic). Introduction by Colm Tóibín.

David is a young American expatriate who has just proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Hella. While she is away on a trip, David meets a bartender named Giovanni to whom he is drawn in spite of himself. Soon the two are spending the night in Giovanni's curtainless room, which he keeps dark to protect their privacy. But Hella's return to Paris brings the affair to a crisis, one that rapidly spirals into tragedy.

Caught between his repressed desires and conventional morality, David struggles for self-knowledge during one long, dark night--"the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life." With sharp, probing insight, Giovanni's Room tells an impassioned, deeply moving story that lays bare the unspoken complexities of the human heart. 

Discussion Questions

1.What is the significance of Giovanni's room? What does it represent?

2.Were you sympathetic to Giovanni? What did you think about his history and how did that influence his current life?

3.Would a story like this be written today?

4.How did you feel about the end of the novel? What did you think the reader is supposed to take away from it?

5. There are some interesting passages about being an American (as opposed to being French, Italian, etc.). What relation do they have to the main themes of the novel? Is it important that this novel is set in France? How do the American characters view Europe? How do the Europeans view Americans?

6. Giovanni’s Room is the only one of Baldwin’s novels without an African American character because he didn’t want to write about race and homosexuality at the same time. Do you think this would still be an issue today?

7. What are some blatantly homophobic or transphobic passages, and how are they related to David’s development in the novel? Do they serve a purpose?

8. What is the role of older gay men, especially Jacques and Guillaume, especially in relation to the young men? What gaps and hierarchies does that reveal within the gay male community, as it’s being depicted here? What does all this have to do with the crime that happens later in the novel?

9. What’s the role of Hella in the story? Does she stand for conventionality? Is Baldwin’s depiction of her misogynistic?

10. What largely symbolic themes and images do you find in this novel, especially related to water and to stagnation/inaction/emptiness? How might these be connected to the overall themes of a search for identity, self-denial, and the notion of “home”?