Category Archives: LGBT Literature

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta Title: The Black Flamingo
Author: Dean Atta
Publisher: Hodder’s Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-1444948608
Genre: 368
Pages: Young Adult, LGBT Reads
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I got to know of this book as it was long-listed for the Jhalak Prize (which is a prize given to the book of the year by a writer of colour), for the year 2020. Luckily, I received a review copy from the good folks at Hachette India and I finished this book in one sitting. I think a lot had to do with the fact that the book is written by a queer person, so it became so relatable, and I often found myself either crying or smiling.

The Black Flamingo is the story of Michael – half-Jamaican, half-Greek -Cyprian boy trying to blend in with his identities and understand where does he truly belong. He is growing up in the UK and from an early age he is more interested in Barbies and singing than the conditioning of how boys should be in a patriarchal society. His mother supports him gently and with a lot of love when he comes out to her (while he is still at school). In all of this, there is his half-sister Anna, his best friend Daisy, and the bullies at school who make him realise who he truly is.

Once Michael goes to university, that he truly realises that he wants to perform in drag. He wants to do this with no labels, and with all fierceness. All he wants is to be The Black Flamingo, in a world of pink ones. This is the story of Michael. Of finding himself through the heartaches, the boys, the crushes, and finding the confidence to live in this world that has a long way to come around.

I think I related to this book at the core – of course by the virtue of being gay but also because it made me understand that sometimes you do not need any labels. You just need to be yourself. I loved the book references in it. I absolutely enjoyed the poetry-prose combination, and Michael’s poems in his notebook. I cried with joy when I saw people around him empathise. I cheered for him as he took stage. I dreamed of being in drag one day – in a red dress, with my fake boa, and in heels so high, I could perhaps touch the sky.

Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta

Fern Road by Angshu Dasgupta Title: Fern Road
Author: Angshu Dasgupta
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt Ltd
ISBN: 978-9389231922
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age
Pages: 216
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

Here’s the thing about this book: I am glad it exists, I just wish it had been written with more nuance. I like the fact that it deals with confusion when it comes to orientation, and maybe even does a layer deeper, however, it somehow did not generate the empathy in me for the protagonist, Orko. I did relate to a lot of instances, but overall the book lost me in most places.

The book is set in 1980s’ Calcutta (absolutely love the setting) and chronicles a young boy’s journey through conflict, a lot of confusion, self-doubt, and acceptance. The book has shades of magic-realism and what goes on inside a boy’s head and those bits Dasgupta gets spot-on. Fern Road is also about Orko who thought he would grow-up to be like his mother, till she disappears. And then it dawns on him that boys grow up to be men and not women.

The writing is crisp and draws on so much nostalgia without force-feeding it to the reader. Dasgupta brings the 80’s to life quite brilliantly and yet the confusion, the pain of growing-up someone else and not what you imagined, and then to accept oneself as easily had me stumble through the novel for most part. I wanted to connect deeply with the book and when I didn’t I was disappointed, but perhaps not every book centred around identity will resonate with every reader. Some scenes though made me choke up – for instance when Orko wants earrings, or when he prays to Ma Lokkhi to turn him into a girl, or even when he wants a new name.

Fern Road could have been so much more according to me, but if you want to read a book about coming-of-age, and get perspectives on the “different” people one can be, then this is the book that makes an honest attempt at getting there, and for that you must read it. Maybe I am conflicted as of now, but I also know that I will reread it and who knows, I might even change my mind about the book.

How We Fight For Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones

How We Fight For Our Lives- A Memoir by Saeed Jones Title: How We Fight For Our Lives: A Memoir
Author: Saeed Jones
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978-1501132735
Genre: Memoirs, LGBT
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This book to some extent made me see the mirror. Saeed’s story isn’t very different from mine, though it is. His story of being bullied because he was “different” is the same as mine. The sense of being called a faggot, a homosexual, and to understand that you have to survive in a world of hate and the world that treats the “other” differently, isn’t easy to do so. I live it every day, and as a fellow gay man in that sense, I understand it even more.

You have to fight and reclaim a lot, snatch even, and make your own terms to live and be respected for who you are. “How We Fight for Our Lives” by Saeed Jones is a memoir that has several layers to it. Of being gay. Of being a black man. Of growing up gay and black.

I loved how Saeed depended on books while growing up (just as I did) and I could see how that made him embrace his desire, till he reaches college and unleashes himself both, physically and mentally. This book is a collection of reflections of his life, of loves, and losses, but more than anything else, it is his relationship with his mother and grandmother that hit me hard. The detailed sexual experiences that are noted are needed for people to understand what goes on in a world different from theirs.

The honesty of the memoir is heartbreaking and often cuts through all prejudices. The language is emotional and makes you sit up and notice Jones’ life and the world in context. How We Fight for Our Lives is a memoir that is much needed in a time such as ours, to make us see that not everyone is the same, but everyone deserves the same respect, dignity, love, and the same opportunity irrespective of their orientation or skin colour.

 

In The Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado Title: In The Dream House: A Memoir
Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1644450031
Genre: Memoir, Gender Studies
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I had read a couple of short stories of Machado before picking up this memoir. I was also aware that this memoir, to a very large extent, would make me see my life and what I had gone through in a toxic relationship. Abuse need not be physical. In fact, the worst kind of abuse is the one that isn’t physical. The kind where no bruises are exposed, no scars are seen, no indication of violence is made known, and the one that isn’t heard or we feel that we cannot talk about it, as it is our own doing that got us here.

 In the Dream House is a book of abuse, hope, and resilience. It is a book about emotional exorcism which we all need to undertake once in a while, no matter the relationship or the intensity or lack of it. It is a memoir of Carmen’s toxic relationship with her first girlfriend and also a history of queer domestic violence. The chapters alternate from one to another. Some chapters read like parts of a larger fairy tale, while others are just downright horrific.

 And what is not surprising at all is the downright honesty of Machado’s writing. She is aware. She knows. The writing spills the heart on to the page. There is manipulation, deceit, a lot of heartache, and in all of this, she gives us glimpses of love. Love for which you stay. Love for which you are willing to perhaps forgive, till you realize that even that cannot change anything in the relationship or the person.

In The Dream House is beautiful and ugly. It is the kind of writing you want to shy away from but you cannot because you are engrossed, absorbed, and not as a voyeur but as someone who has been there (in my case) and knows every word, feels it, and can sense the pain it may have caused.

 There is grace – a lot of it, and then the candour springs on you from these very pages and grabs you at the throat. There is the Dream House as a Lesbian Pulp Novel, Dream House as Epilogue, Dream House as American Goth, Dream House as Sci-Fi Thriller, and Dream House as Ending. Dream House could be anything and is – a beautiful relationship, an abusive one, a one that won’t let go of you, family history, remembrances, queer history, and the author’s life at the core of it. The story she chose to tell and the manner in which she is telling it.

 In the Dream House is confrontative. It enters a territory which doesn’t get spoken about – queer domestic abuse. Machado also mentions at one point that we think queer folks are good and beautiful, but that’s not the case. We are as capable of ugliness. We are after all only human. The past is called on. The bits and sections are not clichéd narratives. There are no stereotypes here. What is there though: A gut-wrenching, redemptive story of the writer’s experiences. A story that needed to be told, and needs to be read.

Lie with Me by Philippe Besson. Translated from the French by Molly Ringwald

Lie with Me by Philippe Besson Title: Lie with Me
Author: Philippe Besson
Translated from the French by Molly Ringwald
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0241987094
Genre: Gay Fiction, LGBT Literature, Queer
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

There isn’t enough gay literature in the world. Till there is. Till you chance upon a book so strong and uplifting and melancholic at the same time, that you don’t know how what to make of your emotions anymore. Life is also nothing but a series of the ones that got away. The ones that remind us of what could have been, almost in another life.

Lie with Me is that kind of book about first love, its insecurities, its jealousies, and with a longing so deep that it will strike you hard, with the turn of every page.

Come to think of it, it doesn’t matter whether this book had straight or gay lovers, the story is riveting, moving, and so powerful that one would only focus on that. It is universal, because love is that way. The loss of a loved one is beyond hurtful. The idea of a loved one going away, leaving you behind to start a new life is heartbreaking for anyone, gay or straight. Given that, Lie with Me speaks to everyone. The language of love and loss is known to all.

Back to the book – it is about a love affair between two teenage boys in 1980s France and how then it has repercussions right till 2016. The book spans thirty-six years – but it is the affair part of the book that hits you the most. At least that’s what happened to me while I read it.

Philippe and Thomas meet as boys and the affair takes place by chance, altering their worlds, ridden by passion, and the understanding that this kind of love better be hidden. Besson writes honestly. There is this nostalgia – this melancholy feeling of abandonment that is constant throughout this short novel. Everything is brought to life. The touches, the smells, the betrayals, the small jealousies, the joy of being together, the said and more so the unsaid. Besson’s writing hurts you. It is meant to, I guess. It brought back all the memories of my first love – everything all rolled into one. Some happy, some sad, and mostly melancholic. Just the way it should have happened while reading this book.

Lie with Me is a book that stays with you. It sticks itself on your existence. It speaks intimately and whispers in your ears – secrets long gone by, secrets we think we have buried till they resurface, threatening the fabric of our being. It tells you stories of love, of happiness, of what it felt like – of summer sun, and how it felt when you first made love and let passion overtake everything else. Molly Ringwald brings to life a translation that I am grateful for and will always be. We need to tell stories of all kind. We need stories to relate to. We need stories that make us want to tell someone that we love them, for now.