Category Archives: Homosexuality

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

giovannis-room-by-james-baldwin Title: Giovanni’s Room
Author: James Baldwin
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0345806567
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ, LGBT
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I waited this long to read this gem. “Giovanni’s Room” was always on my to be read pile but I never picked it up and even if I did, I just read a couple of pages and dropped it. Yes, I am aware of the sacrilege but it is all sorted now and hopefully a thing of the past, because I intend to reread and reread this marvelous book of loss, unrequited love and courage to some extent.

It is a fluid book. At the same time, it is also the kind of book that makes you introspect and travel deep within the recesses of your heart to perhaps realize yourself better. It is about David (the narrator) who is American living in Paris. He has a seemingly normal life with a girlfriend in tow, and things change when he meets Giovanni. It is the 50s and Paris was the place where homosexuality wasn’t illegal, though stigmatized to a large extent. It gives David the freedom to explore and know himself and he unknowingly falls in love with Giovanni only for the book to reach its heartbreaking conclusion (Don’t worry; I shall not spoil it for you, though you will know in the first two pages).

Baldwin wrote this book in the 50s – when perhaps it was unimaginable to think of an LGBT book. David is not likeable. He is confused, lost and often does not come across as a great guy to be with, and yet Baldwin created one of the most unforgettable characters in him and Giovanni and their love story – which is toxic, destructive and will not stop at anything.

Subcultures as presented by the author on every page – many characters unfold as the journey of these two men take place side by side. Love in the margins is not easy to write about. Everything about Giovanni’s room depicts David’s state – emotionally and physically, beautifully portrayed by Baldwin. To sum this book in one line, I will quote from this book: “Nobody can stay in the Garden of Eden”.

Queer: A Graphic History by Dr. Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele

queer-a-graphic-history Title: Queer – A Graphic History
Author/s: Dr. Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele
Publisher: Icon Books
ISBN: 978-1785780714
Genre: Non-Fiction, LGBT Studies
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 2 Stars

The terrible feeling of wanting to like a book but the book not being the kind you expected it to be is known to most readers. This happened to me while reading this book. I really wanted to enjoy “Queer: A Graphic History”, however it wasn’t what I thought it would be.

I thought the book would be a lot more than what it turned to be. Sure it is a history of how queer came to be and its roots, but it isn’t interestingly told. The book had a lot of potential but it ends up being plain boring, if nothing else. The people, events and ideas do not stand out and everything seems botched, confusing and out of place.

The illustrations are alright. The history or what’s written there can be looked up at any site or searched through Wikipedia even. I wanted insights and stories being a gay man myself, which I did not get. Queer is great for an amateur who is just learning to discover himself or herself but it did not work for me.

God in Pink by Hasan Namir

god-in-pink-by-hasan-namir Title: God in Pink
Author: Hasan Namir
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 140
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

What does a gay man do in the modern world? Perhaps coming out to himself and his family would be the first step you’d say. But what would a gay man do in Iraq in 2003? Would he have the courage to come out? Would he at all, knowing that it would only mean death for him and nothing else in the world could save him besides marriage to a girl? Would he marry? Or will he choose love and want to run away from his country of birth?

Hasan Namir’s “God in Pink” is a stupendously small book trying to answer these questions through the protagonist Ramy – a young gay Iraqi struggling to find balance between his sexuality, religion and culture. On the other end is Ammar, a sheikh who is a staunch believer of Islam and is tested through and through from the moment he receives an anonymous letter from Ramy asking him for his help.

I will not give away more of the story but yes, this book haunts me – even though I am done reading it. As I was reading it, I was perhaps thankful that I was born in India – where no one is out for my blood for being gay (or not that I know of), but is that enough? Wouldn’t I want to live with all rights as the other person gets in my country?

Namir gets all nuances just in place (but that is also because he is gay and that matters because this book is written from the heart, all of it). “God in Pink” to me was way more personal – it made me relive the times I dithered and almost didn’t want to come out. What would life be then? Would it be any different? Oh yeah! I am glad I came out when I did. I think the book is needed by all. We all need to read it – straight or gay people to understand our phobias, fears and the need to always be someone we so aren’t. Hasan Namir can say so much and yet use so little words. The brevity and the rawness of his prose makes this book a stellar read.

P.S: The title is so intelligent and brazen. I loved it.

Interview with Matthew Griffin, author of Hide

highres_hide

I read “Hide” last month or so. I loved the book. Every bit of it. So I decided to contact Matthew through his publishers and managed to get an interview. The book is beautifully written – of same-sex love in times when it was unimaginable to even think of it. I cannot wax eloquent enough about the book. Here’s my interview with the author:

1. Why did you choose to set this story in the time it was set – the 50s? Why not a more modern time?

Setting the bulk of their love story during that time period was partly a necessary extension of the initial impulse behind the novel, which was that I wanted to write about this gay couple who’ve been together for a very long time facing the end of the life they’ve built with each other, struggling to cope with the sacrifices they’ve made to stay together, the failures of their bodies, the slipping of their minds, the approach of mortality. In order to have that portion of the narrative set in the present day, which seemed most natural, it meant that I really had to set the early years of their romance during some of the most oppressive decades for LGTB people in America. And although this started out as a sort of secondary choice, it became really central to the novel, the fear and oppression of that time period being a great crucible to intensify the conflict and sacrifice that’s inherent in any long-term relationship—and, consequently, the ultimate devastation when that relationship is lost.


2. How did the voices of Frank and Wendell distinguish themselves as you were writing?

Frank and Wendell’s voices were probably one of the first aspects of the novel that came to me, and they really guided me through writing the book. Large parts of Frank and Wendell’s lives and personalities were based on my own grandparents (this is also partly responsible for the novel’s time period, which reflects the span of their lives). In a lot of ways, Wendell’s voice is sort of a combination of my grandmothers’ voices, while Frank’s is a combination of my grandfathers’, and so the process of writing the book was mostly about me trying to listen to them and write down what they were saying—both in dialogue, and in Wendell’s narrative voice. I always used to hate it when writers talked about just listening to their characters and letting them do the work, but that’s really how it felt—although, of course, those voices were voices that I had been absorbing my entire life.

3. The book is all about “tough love” and yet so many moments of tenderness. Do you think men of those times didn’t have to say it out loud that they loved each other? You think actions were enough?

I don’t know that I think actions were enough; so much as that men of that time period in America simply didn’t feel very comfortable expressing their emotions, regardless of their sexual orientation. Nor were they expected to—particularly during the 50s, men were often expected to be these idealized, strong, impenetrable fortresses, who never showed any weakness, expressions of emotion being considered weakness. Frank and Wendell are very much men of that generation, and their ability to explicitly share their feelings is further blunted by the very real danger in which they’re living, which makes the public expression of those emotions a real risk. The sense of fear arising from that really bleeds into their private lives, too, which is why so much of their love for each other ends up being expressed not in words but in the intensity and strength of their devotion, and the sacrifices they make for each other.

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4. In an age of social media and technology and so many dating apps, do you think same-sex love survives a lifetime?

In a way, it’s probably easier now for same-sex love to last than it has ever been, at least in the modern configurations that we think of as love. But when I look at relationships I know that have lasted a lifetime, there’s a real sense of obligation and duty to them, and also a sense that you can’t have everything, an acknowledgment that you are closing off other possibilities for excitement and romance and newness in exchange for a different set of possibilities—companionship, steadiness, mutual growth—with a single person. And I think in certain ways, dating apps run counter to that, by presenting this endless smorgasbord of people to meet, with new ones always popping up, looking their best in carefully-curated photos. But in the end, of course, it’s all about how you use it and what you want. I think any kind of love is hard-pressed to survive a lifetime. It’s this sort of impossible aspiration, to find this single person that you promise to love and stay with no matter how you change, no matter what happens. I think the beauty of that promise is precisely in its impossibility.


5. Your top 5 favourite LGBT love stories

I’m going to play a little loose here and start with Xena and Gabrielle from the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess, which I was so obsessed with in middle school that I had a different Xena t-shirt to wear every day of the week. Their romantic relationship was mostly kept under the surface of the narrative (it was the 90s!), but it was pretty clear if you were looking for it, and also one of the longest and most complex, fully-developed LGBT relationships I’ve ever seen in entertainment. I love Jamie O’Neill’s novel At Swim Two Boys. I thought Carol, the film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, was brilliant, and the relationship between Celie and Shug Avery in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple—both the book and the movie—will always stick with me. I’m also going to stretch the rules and wrap up with Melville’s Billy Budd, which isn’t technically an LGTB love story but is probably one of the most homoerotic and gorgeously-written pieces of writing I’ve ever read, and there is a real romantic ache to it.

6. What is your next book going to be about?

I have no idea! I’m slowly writing my way into something new, but I tend to write haphazardly at first, without knowing what’s going to stick or how different pieces might cohere, and I’m so early into this next project that I really don’t know what it will become, or if it will become anything. I’m also a little superstitious about talking about what I think I’m going to write next, because I’ve spent years working on projects that went nowhere. Hopefully that won’t happen this time. I do know that I want it to be different from Hide, that I want to challenge myself to do something new, though I don’t know yet exactly what form that will take.

7. Was writing “Hide” cathartic? If yes, in what ways?

I don’t know that I’d characterize it as cathartic. But it was distinctly different from every other piece of writing I’ve ever done, in that, especially in the first draft, it really did seem to come from someplace outside me. That first draft was the most fun, blissful experience of writing I’ve ever had, and it’s one I’m desperate to recapture as I start working on something new. After that, of course, every subsequent draft was more and more difficult. But that first one was pure joy. Even when it was hard, it felt right.

8. Did you have to research a lot for “Hide”?

I did do a lot of research, particularly into the details of taxidermy, which was challenging because I needed to know how Wendell would have learned the craft in the 1930s and 40s, which is quite different from the way it’s done today. But the internet is a great resource, both because of all the information and videos it makes available, and the way it leads you to other resources—I ended up, on recommendation from an internet message board, ordering a taxidermy correspondence course from the early 20th century, which was invaluable. I also did a lot of research about LGBT history and discrimination in America during the 20th century, as well as the broader political climate, particularly during the 50s and 60s when fear of gay people was tied to the threat of communism. I wrote the first draft with as little research as I possibly could, because it’s really easy for me to get caught up in being historically accurate instead of imagining deeply, and I wanted to avoid that in the initial material. Then with each subsequent draft I did more and more research and incorporated it to refine the particular details, though even then I tried to include only what was crucial to the story or had some particular metaphorical or emotional resonance.

Hide by Matthew Griffin

hide-by-matthew-griffin Title: Hide
Author: Matthew Griffin
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408867082
Genre:Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

LGBT fiction has come into its own. A lot of young adult novels are also exploring queer love as constant themes – also coming out. “Hide” by Matthew Griffin is a book that is full of wisdom, tenderness and a love that cannot be spoken of. It is a story of two men and their love – togetherness, companionship and above all hiding the truth, which is where the title comes from. Actually, to me the title is a lot more than just that and I will talk about it in a bit.

“Hide” by Matthew Griffin is a love story of two men. I can call it that – a love story or I could just say that it traces the lives of two men – but that is not what it is. Frank Clifton has returned from WWII. He meets Wendell Wilson and their lives are forever changed. Given the time and place, their love cannot be shouted out loud. They then decide to live together. Years pass. Some more years pass and then something happens which will again change the course of their lives. Frank has a stroke and begins losing his memory and Wendell is left taking care of him through it all. What happens next is for you to read and find out.

This novel is delicate and takes its time. It isn’t rushed and there is no need for it to be that as well. “Hide” is love in the shadows – a bittersweet story of restraint and to want it all. Homophobia is all around you, even today, more so in the Indian society where I come from and yet when you read books such as these, it just makes you feel that everything is possible – even queer or same-sex love, because love is love and should not be judged.

Griffin’s writing soars in most places – the piece about the fear instilled in Frank and Wendell about being homosexual is heartbreaking – not because of the phobia or prejudice but because they just don’t want to live without each other. How can you then not choke up while reading such a book? I am a gay man, so maybe I am an easy reader for this book, but I think this book speaks to everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation.

“Hide” is about love between two men – the companionship, the marriage, the need to be with and want each other. It is as simple as that. Griffin tells a tale that will resonate, that will break your heart and make you hope and pray that it is all okay at the end.