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Begin Again by Eddie S Glaude Jr review – the US through James Baldwin's eyes

The ‘white problem’ ... Baldwin’s writings spark a timely and absorbing engagement with American history

In 2018, two years after the “disastrous” 2016 US presidential election, Eddie Glaude Jr, professor of African American Studies at Princeton, made a pilgrimage to the house in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, in the south of France, where James Baldwin had lived for almost two decades, and which was now being knocked down to make way for luxury flats. Glaude, who has taught Baldwin for many years, had come in search of any surviving traces of the writer’s refuge, and found most of it crumbling to dust. Only the writing room remained, “exposed for the sun to beat down on its side”. Against the backdrop of bulldozers and the noise of sledgehammers, it “looked like the excavation of an ancient ruin”, and called to mind “what Baldwin saw in the latter part of his life in the United States … decay and wreckage alongside greed and selfishness”. It became the impetus for Glaude to undertake an excavation of his own.

He resolved to engage deeply with Baldwin’s work, to try to think “with” him, in order to interrogate “how an insidious view of race, in the form of Trumpism, continues to frustrate any effort to ‘achieve our country’”, and then to write about it. The result is Begin Again, a book that is perfect for Baldwin aficionados or anyone experiencing staggering disbelief at America’s state of disarray and trying to make sense of it. What sets this account apart is that Glaude understands how Baldwin’s writing becomes a pathway for one’s own thoughts; he’s able to synthesise the novelist’s work in a way that transcends summation or homage and becomes instead an act of breathtaking literary assimilation that acquires its own generative power.

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Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi review – a profound follow-up to Homegoing

A young woman weighs faith and science as she searches for meaning in the wake of family tragedyMari...

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Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden review – the poet's debut novel

Death is personified as an overworked black woman in a modern-day Pilgrim’s Progress leavened with ...

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Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain review – a globe-trotting adventure

There are glimpses of Tremain at her best in a passionate tale of coloniser and colonised in the Bri...

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The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi review – a painfully invisible existence

This tender, visceral novel follows a character who is both dead and alive, male and femaleAkwaeke E...

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Summer by Ali Smith review – clear-sighted finale to a dazzling quartet

The last in Smith’s series of seasonal novels explores politics, pandemic and the possibility of fo...

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The Weekend by Charlotte Wood review – old age as a state of mutiny

The 70something protagonists of this glorious, forthright novel are less afraid of death than of irr...

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