Continuing with my desire to read what I consider classic novels by African American authors from previous generations, I added Go Tell It On The Mountain to my reading list. Baldwin tells the story of fourteen year old John, son of two devout Pentacostal Protestant Christians: Gabriel, an abusive father who doubles as a talented preacher with a deceptive past; and Elizabeth, a quiet, loving mother searching for level ground in an explosive household. John has been labeled a future minister by the parishioners in his church, but as a teen, he grapples with many sinful desires: notably the hatred that he has for his father, and the attraction that he has to the Holy Ghost filled organ player, Elisha.
Other notable characters are Florence, John’s aunt who threatens to reveal secrets from Gabriel’s past; Roy, John’s defiant and violent younger brother who wants nothing to do with the church, but is still considered by Gabriel as the son who will continue their lineage of God’s messengers; and Deborah and Esther, two women from Gabriel’s past who have tremendous impact on the novel.
Baldwin’s description of the Black church was spot on: steeped in tradition, but mired in contradiction; run by men, holy, broken and unapologetic; and overpopulated by women, meek and accepting of their plight. He presents a cast of multidimensional characters, fully human, that many will be able to identify with.
I had a few issues with this book, though. The beginning was extremely slow, and Baldwin’s use of descriptive language failed to keep my attention multiple times while narrating John’s thoughts. It wasn’t until the story delved into the past of Florence, Gabriel, and Elizabeth, did my eyes perk up and demand my attention. Even then, the story was filled with peaks and valleys. There were some very interesting parts, but they were all surrounded by yawns and boredom. The highlight of the novel was Gabriel’s life story, filled with edge of your seat, jaw dropping drama and suspense. Had Baldwin focused completely on Gabriel and his transgressions, I may have loved this story.
This is my second Baldwin book. Although I believe him to be exceptionally talented, I am starting to believe that his writing is just not my cup of tea.
I’d recommend this for those who are interested in Baldwin’s writing, or those who are interested in novels from the Harlem Renaissance.