Diving into my first James Baldwin book, I was simply blown away by how elegant and impactful his writing was. I was glad to have an introduction to his works with “The Fire Next Time” since it’s such a personal account, allowing you to get to know the author better. The way he tackles the topics of race and inequality is so direct and straight-forward, he nevertheless also takes the time to elaborate on what it would take to change the future for the better.
“Colour is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality. But this is a distinction so extremely hard to make that the West has not been able to make it yet.” (p. 88)
For how short this piece of writing is (just 89 pages within my edition), it’s incredibly impressive how jam-packed it is with meaningful information, expressions, quotes to take away and much more. Outside the topics of race, the author for example manages to give you incentives towards why it’s worth making the best of the life we have on Earth, elaborating on how to find meaning to it. Both due to its length and its value, it’s simply a book that motivates to be picked up again and again, making you discover some new little gems each time you go through it.
“It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possibly, for the sake of those who are coming after us.” (p. 79)
Even when the author brought you towards topics such as religion, Christianity, the church and the Bible, something I would normally be annoyed by, here he expertly managed to present his views in an impactful and eloquent way. Venturing out to historical facts, linking the topics of religion, race and (in)equality or even topics such as explanations towards the rise of the popularity of Islam within the Black community, you’ll be on a ride of captivating topics that are masterfully strung together.
“I realized that the Bible had been written by white men. I knew that, according to many Christians, I was a descendant of Ham, who had been cursed, and that I was therefore predestined to be a slave. This had nothing to do with anything I was, or contained, or could become; my fate had been sealed for ever, from the beginning of time.” (p. 38)
“I was told by a minister, for example, that I should never, on any public conveyance, under any circumstances, rise and give my seat to a white woman. White men never rose for Negro women. Well, that was true enough, in the main – I saw his point. But what was the point, the purpose, of my salvation if it did not permit me to behave with love towards others, no mater how they behaved towards me? What others did was their responsibility […]. But what I did was my responsibility […] .” (p. 41)
I finished “The Fire Next Time” on a note of feeling impressed, inspired and looking forward to other books written by James Baldwin, making this a strong 5/5 ★ read! An absolute recommendation from my side, this book should be a must read for each and everyone, especially those interested in the topic of race and (in)equality.
Edition: ISBN 978-0-140-18275-0
Penguin Classics, 2017