Category Archives: LGBT Literature

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.

 

 

 

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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.

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala Title: Speak No Evil
Author: Uzodinma Iweala
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0061284922
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Very few books get me all disturbed and thinking about the world we live in. Yes, most of them are impactful, so to say but none off-late have had the lasting effect that “Speak No Evil” will (of which I am sure). I don’t know what it is about this book that makes you so uncomfortable as a reader that you don’t want to read further. I will not spoil anything for you, but the ending is not what I expected. I was shocked and stunned (but that’s where I will leave it).

“Speak No Evil” can be broadly classified into the literary fiction genre, but it is definitely so much more. It is a coming-of-age book, a book about identity and also a book about being an alien in America, but at the heart of it all, it is a book about Niru, an eighteen-year-old boy who comes out to his best friend Meredith and that’s when things take a turn for the worst.

Niru’s parents were born in Nigeria and immigrated to the U.S to build successful careers and give all the privilege to their sons (who are American-born) which they didn’t receive. Till they discover Niru is gay and all hell breaks loose. His father takes him to Nigeria for the summer to get him rid of being gay and the action takes place again in Washington D.C (where they live), ultimately leading to the end.

The book has two narrators – Niru and Meredith. The bulk of the book is told through Niru – his experiences about not only being gay but also being black (it is always about fitting in, and thinking that when they treat you as the other, it is alright but it so isn’t). Niru’s portion broke my heart so many times. I wanted to reach out to him and tell him it will be okay. I have gone through it and it will become easier with time. But Iweala has to do what he must with Niru and Meredith.

“Speak No Evil” disturbs you because you know all that what takes place in the world and yet we are merely people who standby and do nothing about it. Iweala touches on so many themes through Niru and Meredith – that the subtlety of it all will dazzle you; the writing is powerful, though disjointed at times (maybe that is the allure of this book after all). Niru’s parents’ characters are so strong and yet do not overpower the book. I wish I had known his brother OJ better. There is some vague connect between the brothers but I wish there had been more. It might be all about Niru but Meredith also took my heart away in so many places and overall as well. She loves Niru and feels rejected. There is so much going on with her that she can’t tell and to me the unsaid is always more intriguing, which Iweala has expressed marvelously.

All said and done, “Speak No Evil” is a book that will make your heart sing and mourn at the same time. It may leave you wanting more but also so satisfied. Read. It. Today.

Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

Title: Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir
Author: Maggie Thrash
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 978-0763687557
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

For the longest time after I came out, all I remember reading is gay literature. I devoured all of them – from Edmund White to Gore Vidal to Tennessee Williams and not to forget William Baldwin. I was scared of reading lesbian literature, thinking I would never be able to relate to it, because it wasn’t about two men. Of course, I was highly mistaken. The angst and the pain were the same. The feeling of alienation, even more similar. So basically, I was being an idiot by not exploring more diverse literature, that was right there for the taking.

Then several same-sex love books were being read, despite the gender. It didn’t matter anymore as I discovered the fact that human emotion is the same, no matter what and if I were to discriminate then I wouldn’t be any better than the next person who does the same. Having said that, September has begun with a cracking of a read, a graphic memoir at that, titled “Honor Girl” by Maggie Thrash.

Honor Girl is of course a true story of Maggie’s life – a summer spent at a camp when she was fifteen and why was that so important to her. So yes, the story is about Maggie and self-discovery and all of that at that age, but it is also about first love, which to me is paramount. Maybe that’s why I picked up this book at all. It is about Maggie and the way she feels for a female counselor at the camp and thereby what transpires between the two. It is about them having to be careful about their interactions (given the world we live in and how cruel it can be to same-sex lovers), to confessing their love and the angst and sometimes humor around it.

Maggie’s life is brilliantly told by her, at least the formative years and how it shaped her as a human being (you can tell to some extent). The artwork is beautiful and adorable to a very large extent. What I loved about this book was the entire camping site. The illustrations brought it to life and all I wanted to do was go to a place like this one. The nighttime scenes are done with such vividness that it sucks you into the narrative and sense of place. At the same time, it isn’t easy talking about same-sex love and that too between teenagers and more so when it is from your life, but Maggie does it so beautifully and gracefully at that, it just seems effortless all throughout. The bittersweet moments make the read seem so real – just what might happen to you.

“Honor Girl” is a perfect summer read and more importantly also for young girls who are on the verge of discovering their sexuality and personality. It may help, or it may not – but what it will end up doing is warming the heart. A kind of book you must gift every young girl – whatever she might grow up to be.

Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin. Translated from the Chinese by Bonnie Huie

Notes of a Crocodile Title: Notes of a Crocodile
Author: Qiu Miaojin
Translated from the Chinese by Bonnie Huie
Publisher: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 978-1681370767
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Notes of a Crocodile” according to me is a lovely title for a book. I say this to establish it right at the beginning and get it out of the way. This was the third book I read in the women in translation month project and I think by far this has been one of the best (I’ve read six in all so far). There is something very reassuring and yet heartbreaking about this book that makes you fall in love with the prose. You realize it is a translation but it doesn’t matter. The effect is as much. It moved me in just the right places.

“Notes of a Crocodile” is about teenagers who are queer misfits and only discovering love, friendship and artistic affiliations in post-martial-law era of Taiwan. They study at one of Taiwan’s prestigious university and come to realize what happens when you love too hard and too strong. The narrator is an anonymous lesbian, nicknamed Lazi who falls in love way too strong with an older woman named Shui Ling and how she turns to her friends for support as she doesn’t see this happening. Her friends are another kettle of fish: a rich kid who has turned criminal, his self-destructive gay lover (is there any other way to be or to love?), an overachiever who is just bored and her girlfriend who is an artist. See what I mean, when I say the book covers the entire spectrum of LGBTQ?

I was fascinated by this read. “Notes of a Crocodile” at one point in the book (major breakthrough by the way) moves from sexual identity to self-realization about love, loss and how the heart breaks. The translation is just right. I think all the nuances of Chinese expressions and words are in place. Bonnie Huie does a wonderful job on this cult classic. What I loved the most while reading this book is the pop culture references thrown in by Qiu. I wish she were around to write some more books. I also remember reading Last Words from Montmartre with such fervor as well. I couldn’t stop reading it and the same happened with “Notes of a Crocodile”. Also, should you want to know more about title, then I am not giving that away. Read the book for that.