In Just Above My Head, James Baldwin echoes themes of his earlier works—the importance of the church in the black community (Go Tell It on the Mountain, 1953), homosexuality (Giovanni’s Room, 1956, and Another Country, 1962), and deep social concerns (Notes of a Native Son, 1955, and The Fire Next Time, 1963).
Just Above My Head, Baldwin’s sixth novel, tells the story of a black gospel singer, Arthur Montana, and his brother and manager, Hall Montana, who narrates the account of Arthur’s rise to international stardom and his death of a heart attack in the basement men’s room of a London pub. The cast of characters, which is rich and various, includes Jimmy Miller, Arthur’s accompanist and lover, and his sister Julia, a child evangelist and Jimmy’s sister, as well as the “Trumpets of Zion” gospel quartet, whose members started singing gospel music together when they were teenagers. The quartet includes Arthur Montana and three friends who meet violent ends; one goes insane, one is murdered, and the other turns to drugs. The novel covers a span of thirty years in the lives of these friends and associates with settings ranging from Harlem to Africa, Korea, Paris, and the Deep South.
The plot is complex. Hall Montana is drafted and sent to Korea. Julia abandons the ministry, is raped by her father, then becomes a prostitute and takes a succession of lovers, including Hall and an African tribal chief. All of this unfolds against the story of Arthur Montana’s rise to stardom and his search for love, primarily homosexual. Told as it is against the...
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