Manual Another Country

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The answer to both questions came from Richard Wright. Although Baldwin seemed a natural heir to the Harlem Renaissance—he was born right there, in , and Countee Cullen was one of his schoolteachers—the bittersweet poetry of writers like Cullen and Langston Hughes held no appeal for him. He knew those far from bittersweet tenements, he knew the rats inside the walls. In the swell of national self-congratulation over the fact that such a book could be published, it became a big best-seller.

Although the publisher ultimately turned the book down, Wright gave Baldwin the confidence to continue, and the wisdom to do it somewhere else. Baldwin had forty dollars, spoke no French, and knew hardly anyone else. Wright blew up at Baldwin when they ran into each other at the Brasserie Lipp, but Baldwin did not back down.

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His article, reprinted later that year in Partisan Review , marked the start of his reputation in New York. Baldwin knew very well the hatred and fear that Wright described. Then one day, not long out of school, he was turned away from a New Jersey diner and, in a kind of trance, deliberately entered a glittering, obviously whites-only restaurant, and sat down.

The terrifying experience in the restaurant—terrifying not because of the evil done to him but because of the evil he suddenly felt able to do—helped to give Baldwin his first real understanding of his father, who had grown up in the South, the son of a slave, and who had, like Wright, been witness to unnameable horrors before escaping to the mundane humiliations of the North.

On the day of his funeral, in , Baldwin recognized the need to fight this dreadful legacy, if he, too, were not to be consumed. More than a decade before the earliest stirrings of the civil-rights movement, the only way to conceive this fight was from within. For the boy, being saved is a way of winning the love of his preacher father—an impossible task.

More of the nobility lies in its language, which is touched with the grandeur of the sermons that Baldwin had heard so often in his youth.

Another Country

It also began to seem as though he somehow used places up and had to move to others, at least temporarily, in order to write. In the winter of , he had packed the unruly manuscript and gone to stay with his current lover in a small Swiss village, where he completed it in three months, listening to Bessie Smith records to get the native sounds back in his ears. If it had not been so late in the evening and the stores had not been closed, he warned, a lot more blood might have been shed. Living abroad, he explained, had made him realize how irrevocably he was an American; he confessed that he felt a closer kinship with the white Americans he saw in Paris than with the African blacks, whose culture and experiences he had never shared.

For these reasons, Baldwin revoked the threat of violence with an astonishingly broad reassurance: American Negroes, he claimed, have no desire for vengeance. His new book had a Paris setting, no black characters, and not a word about race. Even more boldly, it was about homosexual love—or, rather, about the inability of a privileged young American man to come to terms with his sexuality and ultimately to feel any love at all. Although Baldwin had been cautioned about the prospects of a book with such a controversial subject, it received good reviews and went into a second printing in six weeks.

As a writer, he had won the freedom he desired, and the decision to live abroad seemed fully vindicated. By late , however, the atmosphere in Paris was changing. And so the following summer Baldwin embarked on his most adventurous trip, to the land that some in Harlem still called the Old Country: the American South.

He was genuinely afraid. In Charlotte, North Carolina, he interviewed one of these children—a proudly stoic straight-A student—and his mother.

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Seeing him as the victim of a sorry heritage, he does not argue but instead commiserates, with a kind of higher moral cunning, about the difficulty of having to mistreat an innocent child. The long succession of would-be cattle barons, missionaries and government agents failed to dispossess the Yolngu of their lands, but the introduction of their new ways and different laws succeeded in eroding the heart of a complex culture that was once strong, defiant and self-sufficient. Another Country is a documentary which considers, from the inside, the ramifications of one culture being dominated by another.

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Films For Change: Another Country. Plot Keywords. Parents Guide. External Sites. User Reviews. User Ratings. External Reviews. Metacritic Reviews.

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Another Country | The New Yorker

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