... 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... In the US, the book was published in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. In the UK, it was released just after armed pro-Trump rioters staged the attack on the US Capitol, in the wake of which “the lie” was still everywhere in evidence, particularly the loud condemnatory chorus crying out: “This is not who we are! This is not America!” It’s a persistent, predictable refrain, but as always it only raises the question: if it isn’t America, why does it keep happening there? Glaude’s attempt to answer this, via Baldwin, points to a way for his country to “imagine ourselves anew”. It is a scholarly, deeply personal, and yet immensely readable meditation, a masterful reckoning with the “latest betrayal” of the American ideal.
There is a common reading of his career, dismissed by Glaude as a “stale characterisation”, that he hit the heights of his literary genius in 1963; that, thereafter, “his rage and politics got the best of him”... Glaude challenges this convention with conviction. He invites us with him to “read Baldwin to the end” and reveals a writer, not spent, but rather illuminating the path beyond despair – the work of a saint if ever there was such a thing. This witness through the dark times, which Glaude argues are upon us once again, is, he says, the true measure of Baldwin’s greatness: an enduring testament to his love and the belief that the US can and must be something more than it is.