James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile
by Magdalena J. Zaborowska
Duke University Press
379 pages, $24.95
IN THE FALL OF 1951, the 27-year-old James Baldwin, seeking a quiet place to finish what would become his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, found himself in the Swiss village of Loèche-les- Bains. Baldwin had been living in Paris since 1948, beginning an expatriate life that would continue for the next forty years. There in that mountain village, he was the only black man, and he realized quickly that he was in a place that had never actually seen a black man before. The spectacle of Baldwin’s presence, his experiences of being touched and insulted with fam
iliar racist words tinged with French accents, formed the subject of his essay “Stranger in the Village” (1953). But the essay, in both its eloquence and anger, makes a much larger argument beyond the villagers’ actions. Baldwin uses his encounters as an occasion to ponder the whole history of Western white supremacy, arguing that “the root of the American Negro problem is the necessity of the American white man to find a way of living with the Negro in order to be able to live with himself.” It was precisely such dislocations from the Manhattan geographies that mapped the terrain of Baldwin’s literary imagination, where he often came to his profound insights about racism—and homophobia—in the U.S.
Baldwin’s fiction and nonfiction almost always focused on the U.S., but were for the most part written outside of its borders.