Read by Jesse L. Martin
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library
At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin's early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document from the iconic author of If Beale Street Could Talk and Go Tell It on the Mountain. It consists of two "letters," written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Described by The New York Times Book Review as "sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle...all presented in searing, brilliant prose," The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of literature.
I've got to admit that, although I've been looking forward to reading this book for a long time, I probably did not give it my full attention. I've got audiobooks piled up and I listened to this one while I was working, which doesn't allow me to really listen in the way I should to important books.
Even so, Baldwin gave me something that I have yet to hear in a book about race - the role of religion in race and race relations. I have, for as long as I've known about slavery, wondered how enslaved people maintained their religion and how African Americans continued to do so despite all that has happened to them. Baldwin turned to religion - first Christianity and the Nation of Islam - and turned away from them. Baldwin found neither the comfort nor the answers he needed in religion. His journey to that was so intimate and insightful.
It is always tremendously said to hear these calls to end racial injustice from decades ago and know that persons of color are still facing the same issues today. But Baldwin is not necessarily asking for integration; in fact, he asks the question, " Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?" And I can't help but think that black people today are still asking that question as well.