This book sheds light upon the difficulties that were present -and in many ways remain present- in a racially divided country. Baldwin is able to speak to the challenge from a number of angles. We see the perspective of the child, the parent, the lover, the suppressed, the empathetic, the affluent as well as others in the struggle of this story. It evokes genuine compassion and understanding from the reader on issues that are far too recent and remain too present.
We are shown vivid scenes of abuse in black labor camps, run-ins with police, mixing races in segregated neighborhoods among a number of others. Baldwin’s skill at bringing social struggles to life is on full display as he weaves a tale of a boy’s unlikely rise to prominence and shows how, despite progress on the economic ladder, social challenges remain constant.
Baldwin takes a step away from his erudite prose that seems to come so naturally to him. In much of his work the elegant style and rhythm in which Baldwin writes is regularly on display, but in Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone that rhythm is, at times, so notably absent that one might believe it was a conscious decision on the writer’s part. Either way, the emotionally powerful scenes present throughout the novel are sure to give any reader an image that will remain with them.
This book is a depiction of the way the United States of America was and remains a depiction of where it comes from. This is a history that too many of its citizens either neglect or wish to forget, but it will forever play a role in what it will become. Through his work, this novel a small but important piece of the whole, James Baldwin remains a prominent figure in the nations history. The day we forget James Baldwin, we take a step towards neglecting humanity.