Category Archives: LGBT Literature

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”.

Mohanaswamy by Vasudhendra

mohanaswamy-by-vasudhendra Title: Mohanaswamy
Author: Vasundhendra
Translated by: Rashmi Terdal
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 978-9352641260
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ Literature, Translations
Pages: 280
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Reading “Mohanaswamy” struck a chord. It had to. I knew it would. It is a book about a gay man and his life and how he combats every situation and is forever finding love. The resemblance was clear. I was almost terrified when I started this book. I thought I would break down and I did in most places, but I was prepared for it at some sub-conscious level. Books which are so rooted in real-life take you to another level – of deep pain, melancholy and also sometimes of laughter (which also happened by the way). “Mohanaswamy” is a book which I would love everyone to read and hopefully the read would make them more empathetic.

“Mohanaswamy” is the book which will resonate with anyone who has felt left out in the world. It is the story of the protagonist – of his journey – from discovery his orientation to heartbreak (I loved those stories or incidents because those were the ones I could relate the most) to the societal changes (or not) and how it views gay men. Also, the fact that it is set in Bangalore and goes back and forth between Mohanaswamy’s village and the city – one thing doesn’t change though – the hypocrisy of people surrounding him, even the ones he loves. It is everything that I felt as a gay man and still do. It is not a book really – but life, Vasundhendra’s life (I am inclined to believe that it is semi-autobiographical in nature) and that’s what makes it so heartwrenching.

The translation by Rashmi Terdal is fantastic – I don’t know Kannada, but I am sure the translation captures the entire essence of the book beautifully. Growing up gay and then living a life or preparing to live a life of loneliness isn’t easy. “Mohanaswamy” gets under your skin and makes you realize and face those issues. At least, it did that for me. It almost showed me the mirror and it wasn’t easy. We need more writers like Vasundhendra, who will write such books that reflect the times we live in. Vasundhendra’s writing is razor sharp, delicate, emotional and utterly honest. I think that is what connects with a reader and stays. Like I said earlier, I would recommend everyone to read this book. You might just understand some aspect of the gay life.

Guapa by Saleem Haddad

guapa-by-saleem-haddad Title: Guapa
Author: Saleem Haddad
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454135
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The minute I had known of “Guapa” by Saleem Haddad, I knew I wanted to read it. I also strangely (well not so) enough knew that I would love it. Is it because I am gay? Is it because there is this sense of alienation I feel sometimes, as most minorities do? I don’t know. I don’t think that’s one of the major reasons why I thought I would love the book, but it was definitely playing at the back of my mind. “Guapa” extends itself from being just “another gay novel” and that’s what I love about it.

The novel opens strangely enough with a scene that I can most associate myself with. The protagonist, Rasa’s grandmother catches him in bed with his lover Taymour. That’s how the book opens. That’s exactly what happened to me many years ago – my mother caught me with a man (random and not my lover at all) in bed and I was mortified. I was ashamed (Eib as Rasa calls it in the book and you will know the context and the way the word is used). I was not scared. I was just helpless as it happened. Anyway, that is how the book begins.

It is a book set in an unnamed country (and yet we know it is Iraq) and takes place over 24-hours and what happens to Rasa, a disillusioned gay man – caught between two worlds, between his grandmother and the love he has for his lover, between tradition and modernity and always looking within to find means of escape. The book is about Guapa, the underground night club where the city’s clandestine LGBT community meets and lives their lives, day by day, with no hope in sight. The same day, Rasa’s best friend and drag queen Majid has been arrested. That’s another aspect of the book. Let me also add another very interesting part of the book here: Taymour is about to get married. For the rest, I beseech you to read “Guapa”.

There are some authors who debut and you know it is their debut novel. There are some who are brilliant with the written word and their first novel doesn’t seem like the first novel and this is the case with Saleem Haddad’s book. The writing is mostly in the first person, but doesn’t ever fall in the territory of stereotypes or its creation. It if anything, breaks and rips them apart with each sentence and thought. It is not a coming of age novel, though one would be so tempted to fit it in that genre. Honestly, for convenience I have categorized it under literary fiction and LGBTQ fiction but I think the book is broader in scope than that. “Guapa” is about what goes on behind headlines, it is about lives who want to be free and live the way they must, it is about issues that are seething and often ignored; marginalized lives and hopes and dreams and above all empathy toward one and all.

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.

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.