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The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin audiobook review – powerful essays from the civil rights frontline

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin audiobook review – powerful essays from the civil rights frontline

First published in 1963 at the height of the US civil rights movement, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time comprises two astonishing essays examining the Black experience in the United States and the struggle against racial injustice.

The first, My Dungeon Shook, takes the form of a letter to Baldwin’s 14-year-old nephew, and outlines “the root of my dispute with my country … You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity.”

The second, Down at the Cross, is a polemic examining the relationship between race and religion, and finds Baldwin reflecting on his Harlem childhood, his encounters with racist police, and a spiritual crisis at the age of 14, which, triggered by his fears of getting drawn into a life of crime, “helped to hurl me into the church”. There, he was filled with anguish “like one of those floods that devastate countries, tearing everything down, tearing children from their parents and lovers from each other”.

The essays are narrated by the Law & Order actor Jesse L Martin, who highlights the rhythmic nature of Baldwin’s prose, and channels his anger and devastation at the unceasing suffering of Black Americans. This audiobook is one of several new recordings of Baldwin’s writing being published over the next few months, to mark the influential author’s centenary year, which also include Go Tell It to the Mountain, Another Country, Giovanni’s Room and If Beale Street Could Talk.

Available via Penguin Audio, 2hr 26min

Further listening

Fire Rush
Jacqueline Crooks, Penguin Audio, 11hr 3min
Leonie Elliott narrates this coming-of-age story set in the late 1970s about the daughter of a Caribbean immigrant who finds kindred spirits and thrilling new sounds at an underground reggae club.

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Two Sisters
Blake Morrison, Harper Collins, 10hr 28min
A tender account of the life of Gill, Morrison’s younger sister who died from heart failure caused by alcohol abuse, and his half-sister, Josie. Read by the author.

Source: theguardian.com