Category Archives: LGBT Literature

So Lucky by Nicola Griffith

So LuckyTitle: So Lucky
Author: Nicola Griffith
Publisher: MCD x FSG Originals
ISBN: 978-0374265922
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQIA
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I had read “Hild” a couple of years ago and loved it. So I was more than happy to read and review this one when it came to me. I was astounded by the writing. Still am. “So Lucky” is almost everything rolled into one concise book – it is literary fiction, a thriller,    a medical thriller at that, political in nature, an LGBTQIA read, and also autobiographical in nature to a very large extent. Nicola Griffith has put it all in and doesn’t lack a punch. It is there in almost every page of the book.

“So Lucky” is about Mara Tagarelli – the head of a multi-million dollar AIDS Foundation is also a committed martial artist. And suddenly, just one fine day she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and doesn’t know how to deal with it, till she does. She just wants to break the pattern of being treated like a victim – even though her body is weighing her down.  There is then the question of social media bullying (which is fascinating in its own way when you get to it). There is also the element of community and what becomes of friends and family when it actually comes down to being there.

It is an angry book, a book of hope and a book of love as well. There is a lot going on that will leave you bereft and raw, however, it is told with intelligence and much honesty. The book bites and stings and also hurts where it must. It doesn’t go gently all the way. I loved that the most about this book. After a very long time, I have read something that is so refreshingly candid and makes no bones about telling things the way they are.

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The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

The House of Impossible Beauties Title: The House of Impossible Beauties
Author: Joseph Cassara
Publisher: Ecco, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062676979
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBT Fiction,
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Authors need to write more in the LGBT space. I know a lot is being written, but, I also think that a lot is still not enough. Books such as “The House of Impossible Beauties” make you see, realize and understand that. I had been wanting to read this one for a while now and I am so happy that the wait paid off because I absolutely loved this gem of a book. There are some books that stick with you, no matter what and this will for sure be one of them.

“The House of Impossible Beauties” is literally that – a house of people living on the edge in the ’80s of New York – a time riddled with confusion, mayhem, and change. From all that I have read and understand, I know it isn’t easy to write an AIDS novel, but this one is so much more than just that. In so many places in the book, I had to put it down and breathe a little, because I could see myself in its pages and not just when it came down to one character or one incident. It was an amalgamation of it all. And yes, I did weep, if not cry while reading it.

At the center of this gregarious, big-hearted novel is Angel – barely seventeen, new to the drag world and ball culture, with a big heart to care for those who need it the most – people who are like her and those without love. She falls in love with Hector, who shares the dream of forming the House of Xtravaganza, the first-ever all-Latino house in the Harlem ball circuit. When Hector dies to AIDS, Angel decides to build the house all by herself and she does.

And this is where it all begins in the book. Part One is about introducing these characters who inhabit the house – Angel, Venus – the trans girl who just wants someone rich to look after her, Daniel who in a way saves Venus and himself and Juanito – the quiet one who is in love with fabrics. The marginality of these characters – of not just being gay or trans but also Latino in the ’80s (and even today it isn’t easy, being either or both of these) shines – almost jumping out of the pages. Cassara opens you to a new world (if new to you that is) and merges it beautifully with characters who sear through your heart.

The writing is not only taut but also funny in so many places. The book is not without humour and perhaps we need more of it to get through the day. The novel is, of course, raw and you wish certain things didn’t happen to them, but they do and through all of it, the House of Xtravaganza stands tall, sheltering them, and how the shifting views of people regarding LGBT population, gives it a totally different form and shape. What I loved is the history of LGBT interspersed far and few in-between the pages, quite cleverly by the author.

“The House of Impossible Beauties” should be read by one and all and not only the LGBT population. It is a novel about empathy, kindness, forgiveness and above all just being who you are, without fear or inhibitions. I only wish I had a house like this to go to when I was growing-up and needed a friend, a mother, or even a lover.

 

 

 

History of Violence by Édouard Louis. Translated from the French by Lorin Stein.

History of Violence by Édouard Louis Title: History of Violence
Author: Édouard Louis
Translated from the French by Lorin Stein
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374170592
Genre: Literary Memoir, LGBT, Biographical
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It came out of the blue. A sudden kick to my stomach, reverberating throughout my body. It felt personal. It couldn’t have been more real than this. The book had been on my radar for a while now, however, I did not imagine that it would trigger so many emotions or that it would leave me more bereft than ever, once I finished reading it. “History of Violence” by Édouard Louis isn’t an easy book to stomach. Well, any book on rape and its aftermath isn’t easy to digest. You are left with that sinking, horrid feeling and you want something good to happen, but that most of the time isn’t possible, because it is life and it takes its time to heal and repair.

“History of Novel” is a meta non-fiction novel. Yes, it is a genre that I just got to know of once I started reading this book. The review isn’t about the genre. The book is about rape and its aftermath. Édouard Louis was raped in December 2012 on Christmas Eve. “History of Violence” charts the incident in the author’s voice, his sister’s voice (in some chapters) and the way life goes on or doesn’t sometime.

The pathos and the indifference in the book are startlingly dichotomous. Indifference mainly because in so many ways Édouard just wants to distance himself from the incident and yet he cannot stop talking about it to anyone who will listen. That is another way to disassociate, by the way. Pathos because literally no one can understand or maybe no one will. The ideas in this book are many: Of being gay, of racism that is deep-seated in Paris (because the novel is set there and in the author’s home village), of anxiety and fears, of the post-trauma and what it truly means to come back home.

“History of Violence” is very disturbing in most places and rightly so. You can sense Édouard blaming himself, of hating what happened, of trying to make sense of it all and in all of it wondering if life will ever be the same. At the same time, places and interactions seem more intense – be it the nurse at the hospital or the homeless man the author meets in the waiting room, or a basic taxi ride, or even a walk that triggers memories. This book has been written in narratives that shift – past and present merge, so it might seem like a difficult read but it isn’t. If anything, it will make you more empathetic to people around you, if a book is capable of doing that.

What it means to be humane. When the author doesn’t feel anger anymore toward the perpetrator Reda, but pities him, also even feels sorry for him if anything. Everything isn’t about just the good or bad. There is the in-between and “History of Violence” quite stunningly manages to convey that. I remember during the novel when the narrator can’t bear people being happy, after the incident. And another time, all he sees is Reda – in almost every face he comes across on the street. Such scenes remain and almost haunt the reader. At least, that’s what happened to me.

The translation shines. Not once did I feel that I was reading a translation. Lorin Stein has encapsulated it all brilliantly from French to English. No emotions are lost. Nothing seems out of place. Stein understands every emotion, every scar, every memory and is able to seamlessly bring us this read in a language we understand.

“History of Violence” is a book that is not for the weak-hearted. I don’t say this to make you shy away from reading it. In fact, if anything I want you to read it. I want you to understand perspectives. More so because Édouard has done a stellar job of putting his heart, body and soul on paper and nothing can beat that.

 

 

Don’t Call Us Dead:​ Poems by Danez Smith

Don't Call Us Dead Title: Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Author: Danez Smith
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977856
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I think for the longest time I avoided reading poetry as a genre because I was scared. Prose will kill you. Let me correct that: Good prose will kill you. Great prose will leave you bereft. Or the other way around, but once poetry gets into your veins, you are an addict my friend! There is no way out of it. I was introduced to Neruda. Never say never also might work brilliantly as an adage.

Circa 2018. I love poetry. I love poems that seize my heart and wring it with ease. Sometimes brutally. I failed to keep my promise. Why am I saying all this? Well, because I have just finished reading a brilliant book of poems and I want to let you know how I feel about it. The book in question: “Don’t Call Us Dead” by Danez Smith.

This collection isn’t an easy one to read. If you are planning to read it at a stretch or even in one-sitting, my recommendation is you don’t. Smith doesn’t make poetry floral or sweet-smelling or even bearable for that matter. When it comes to me, I agree with him. Poetry like most form of art only reflects what exists around us and should with very good reason.

“…paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun…” 

Just by reading these two lines, I was moved like I haven’t been moved in a while. The idea that every place is sanctuary (so remote, isn’t it?) and that nothing is a gun couldn’t have rung truer than it does now. The now that we live in that Danez writes about so and that hits so hard.

Smith’s voice is much needed for everyone, but more so for the black men, for the young black man, the gay man, the kind who have endured a history of oppression and violence or have heard of it. It is for everyone who wants to change the world by reading and understanding and that empathy shines through Danez’s poems. The beauty in all of them is striking, almost heartbreaking even.

Take this one for example, where the loneliness of the gay man is stark and evident, universal that it strikes a chord one way or the other.

“everyone on the app says they hate the app but no one stops

I sit on the train, eyeing men, begging myself to talk to them

 He whispers his name into my lower mouth
I sing a song about being alone”

Danez Smith does not shy away from expressing. Some poems run into pages and lots of pages (and for good reasons) while others are explained briefly and they are as effective as any other poem in the collection. This isn’t micro-poetry. This isn’t slam poetry. It is life, that seeps, bleeds ad yearns through the veins and the pores.

“Don’t Call Us Dead” is set in a time – our time, which is equal parts scary, liberating and melancholic. Let me remove my proverbial hat and tip it for Smith.

 

 

 

The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst Title: The Sparsholt Affair
Author: Alan Hollinghurst
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-1101874561
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

To read an Alan Hollinghurst novel is to give in. I realized that when I read “The Swimming Pool Library” for the first time and that was also the first time I read a Hollinghurst novel. I was exploring my sexuality. I was learning what it was to be gay and sometimes all you need is another’s experiences – fictional or real to help you tide through and that is what Hollinghursts’ novels did for me. They gave me hope and joy, made me cry, and at the end of all it, made me realize my potential and myself.

“The Sparsholt Affair” – his latest novel is expansive, huge, overwhelming, and a mirror of the changing attitudes of the British toward the LGBTQIA community. The book starts with the arrival of David Sparsholt at Oxford in October 1940 – a handsome athlete, who has everyone taken by him. Hollinghurst wastes no time in getting into the book – we see David through the eyes of his friends and acquaintances and this is how we see Britain as well.

Please do not treat this novel as being just another LGBTQIA novel. It isn’t just that. There is so much more – the universality of emotions that only ring true and nothing else. Hollinghurst has a knack of letting new characters in and old ones disappear just one you’ve started growing comfortable with them. It used to irritate me initially but then I started enjoying it. What the book also does is sort of draw an arc of gay history from the 40’s to 2012. It is magnificent the way Hollinghurst maps it all – from nothing to iPhones and dating apps to the loneliness we all feel and yet there is no one to speak to.

I loved how nothing was served on a platter in this book. Alan makes you work very hard to pick up the clues, to make sense of what is happening and as usual he returns to Henry James one way or the other (I thoroughly enjoyed The Line of Beauty because of the innumerable references to The Spoils of Poynton). “The Sparsholt Affair” is melancholic and hopeful, almost at the same time. Hollinghurst is the master of depicting nostalgia in his books and this one is no different. Read it. Please read it.