Just Above My Head

Narrated by: Kevin Kenerly
Length: 20 hrs and 45 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (233 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The stark grief of a brother mourning a brother opens this novel with a stunning, unforgettable experience. Here, in a monumental saga of love and rage, Baldwin goes back to Harlem, to the church of his groundbreaking novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, to the homosexual passion of Giovanni's Room, and to the political fire that inflames his nonfiction work.

Here, too, the story of gospel singer Arthur Montana and his family becomes both a journey into another country of the soul and senses - and a living contemporary history of black struggle in this land.

©1978, 1979 James Baldwin (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What listeners say about Just Above My Head

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Wonderful poignant story

The story of Arthur Montana is heartbreaking because of the world in which he finds himself, a world that rejects his black and gay self. Baldwin is a master at revealing the workings of the human heart. As a gospel singer, Arthur travels the world and no where does he face hatred and violence such as that confronted in the Deep South, the Bible Belt.
Baldwin’s love scenes are explicit and not for the faint of heart.
I read the novel back in the 70s but enjoyed listening to it EXCEPT when the reader tried to imitate a woman’s voice . His rendition was excruciating. Why not have an actual woman read those parts ?

48 people found this helpful

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Riveting love story and the evolution of self.

I think this love story really spoke to self awareness. The homosexuality peace was almost just a backdrop. James Baldwin's Vivid accounting made you feel like you were there in Harlem or Paris

11 people found this helpful

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A Compelling Chronicle of the Black Experience

I chose this book after seeing the movie, If Beale Street Could Talk. I had never read James Baldwin, I am sorry to say. This book popped up and I’m so glad I selected it. It is an account of the black experience set in Harlem during the 50s and 60s, with forays into the Deep South in the beginnings of the civil rights movement. It is beautifully written. Be warned, however, that it graphically and realistically portrays the sexual experience. I have no problem with this but some might. I highly recommend this book.

4 people found this helpful

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Excellent

This is the best book on Audible. And trust me I have listened to close to 1,000 and I hardly ever review.

24 people found this helpful

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Novel & Performance: AMAZING

Both Performance and Novel are stunning. Author's genius is complemented to perfection by reader's impressive talent. Bravo

13 people found this helpful

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Riveting!<br />

Everything about this book was relevant to contemporary times. James Baldwin's storytelling is beautiful and rich. The actor was amazing as well.

8 people found this helpful

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I love Baldwin but...

I can't lie. we love Baldwin because of how he so eloquently paints pictures of the black diaspora, the life of black people in America, and the life of gay people in the black culture... but... damn this was a hard book to hold onto. I found myself slipping in an out of the text because it was just so wordy. I could have never read this book by hand, I would have passed out at every page trying to remember what I had read on the previous page.

1 person found this helpful

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Baldwin's Flourish, in a Flawed Novel

Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” is one of the three or four greatest short stories I know. I’ve read it at least a dozen times, often to prepare for teaching it, and I have teared up almost every time. It takes a perspective “we” can almost know – a middle-aged African-American high school teacher who’s served in the army – and has him serve as “our” guide to the great artistry and deep hurt of his jazz-inspired brother. The story somehow collapses the whole of the brothers’ lives – there’s a line about our narrator catching Sonny when he takes his first steps – and even echoes the deeper experience of African-Americans as a whole. And it also may be the greatest primer to the possibilities of jazz that anyone has ever written.

I’ve put “we” and “our” in quotes because It’s a deep question when it comes to defining who it is Baldwin is writing for. I think “Sonny’s Blues” is powerful in part because it’s a supposedly marginal figure who’s able to make his story accessible to a generic – read “white” as near synonym – audience. Of course, it’s more than that as well, and part of its power is the way it ultimately makes me realize how wide the world of perspective is beyond my own.

This novel comes more than two decades later, but I think “Sonny’s Blues” informs it. The novel begins as almost a reprise, with our narrator, Hall, writing of how he learned of his brother Arthur’s death. (“Sonny’s Blues” begins with the narrator learning of Sonny’s arrest for heroin possession.) Then it spends a good chunk of the first “book” exploring how they came to be estranged and how they came to understand one another.

This novel is, in its way, even more ambitious, though. It deals not just with the African-American experience and the power of music (Arthur is a successful gospel singer) but also the civil rights struggle, sexual abuse, and homosexuality as an emerging cultural possibility.

This is an important book, as is anything Baldwin ever wrote. And, since it is Baldwin, there are moments of soaring prose. (Consider two quick gems: “Music does not begin as a song. It can become a song, but it begins as a cry.” Or “Our suffering is our bridge to one another. Everyone must cross this bridge.”) And, given that this is written in 1979, it’s an important landmark in naming the LGBT experience as authentic to the American experience as a whole.

This is not, in the end, though, a great novel. Its ambition weighs it down throughout, and it seems often to be reminding us of all it’s trying to do. I often found myself admiring some of the characters’ insights, but I seldom found myself caught up in the story itself. I felt good about being someone who was reading it, but I didn’t enjoy the reading as I would have hoped.

For starters, the dialogue here is clumsy. Characters don’t talk to each other so much as make speeches in front of one another. (The grand quality of many of them reminds me of the social realism novels of the 1930s, of something James Farrell might have written in the years before he discovered James Joyce.) Or, when they aren’t, they’re moving the narrative forward in awkward ways, introducing each other and explaining things in dialogue that we could get more efficiently through other narrative forms.

And then there are the explicit sex scenes. I have no problem with the content, but they often feel almost clinical, like we are being asked to acknowledge that, yes, human animals experience arousal and lust of this sort. They make me think a little of the great Monty Python skit where, for a sex education class, John Cleese, as a professor, invites his wife into the room, and they proceed to go at it on a desk. Then he interrupts himself occasionally to scold the students for laughing. Maybe nothing about this books says “ ’70s novel” more than that, but it feels dated and awkward. It’s great that he’s showing that we should be no more shocked by gay sex than by hetero, but neither comes across as authentic.

But the biggest problem I have is with the fundamental narrative structure. Our narrator is Hall, but it seems as if Baldwin is bored with him. (There’s even a part, at the start of the final book, when Hall asks himself why he is trying to tell this story – a telling bit of uncertainty – and he concludes that it’s to make sense of Arthur’s story more than his own.) Most of this story, then, concerns Arthur – or others like their neighbor and some-time lover Julia – often in private moments Hall could never have known.

In other words, Hall is a narrator telling us about events he can’t possibly have seen, which undermines him as a narrator/character.

Narrative technology has come a long way in the forty years since this came out. I think of what I like to call the rhizomatic novel where we get a series of only tangentially connected stories in a single volume, stories that, in conversation, tell more than any one figure could know. Or we get the proliferation of excellent short story cycles that have come out since. Instead, this seems like a novel trapped in a form of story-telling that can’t quite encompass it.

There is greatness here. I suspect there’s greatness in anything Baldwin ever put down on paper. But this work as a whole doesn’t come together as it might. I am glad I read it, but I am also glad I am finished reading it.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent !

This is a brilliant book written by a gifted artist! James Baldwin is inspirational to me.

8 people found this helpful

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Fantastic! Love Kevin Kenerlys voice!

I have always been a fan of James Baldwin. Loved this storyline very much. Thanks

8 people found this helpful