Category Archives: LGBTQ Reading Project 2017

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.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man Title: Tin Man
Author: Sarah Winman
Publisher: Tinder Press, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 978-1472252159
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

A lot of people were talking about “Tin Man” before I got down to reading it. I was the late-comer at the party and I was only too happy about it because I went reading the book without any expectations or knowing anything about it. I am so glad that happened because I loved the book. Me loving the book would be an understatement in my opinion. It was more than love. It was something that I cannot put my finger on and so it is very tough to describe my emotions as I read this book and also after I put it down.

“Tin Man” by Sarah Winman is a story of a painting, of a woman who believes that boys can also appreciate beauty and be tender, of two boys Ellis and Michael who are best of friends and grow up together and a woman named Annie who walks into their lives and everything changes and still remains the same. I am putting it very loosely but let me also tell you that this book is magical. It transports you in the world it creates and will have you weeping for more. I do not exaggerate when I say this. At least, it sure did happen to me this way.

Ellis and Michael cannot be separated. They become men. Annie suddenly enters their lives and stays. The three of them live. Till something changes and then the story begins. Actually, the story begins way earlier with Ellis’ mother winning a painting (Van Gogh’s Sunflowers) at a raffle, which is how the book begins.

The first half of the book is Ellis. The second half is Michael which is heartbreaking. These just happen to be men in love. There is no agenda here. You shouldn’t even read it this way. The prose is so tender, graceful, raw and overwhelming – that for a short book I had to shut it and get back to it after a day or two. I couldn’t finish it in one sitting as I thought I would. I am not going to tell you what happens as I don’t want to give away too much.

Winman writes beautifully. There are so many love stories in this short book and mind you she doesn’t get soppy. We go back and forth through their lives and can only empathize with the men and what it must have been for them. It is heavy on the emotions and a little less when it comes to descriptions which I didn’t mind at all. The loneliness of love, the anguish of separation and the redemption that someday we will be together is what makes you love this small gem of a book so much.

Adrian and the Tree of Secrets – Story by Hubert & Illustrations by Marie Caillou

Title: Adrian and the Tree of Secrets
Story by Hubert
Illustrations by Marie Caillou
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
ISBN: 978-1551525563
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

This book is for anyone who has had a problem fitting in while growing up. When you know that you aren’t like what most people are and yet cannot tell a soul. I love coming of age books and more so when they are in the graphic more and especially more so if it is about being gay and coming out as well – more to yourself than anyone else and “Adrian and the Tree of Secrets” is just the kind of book that you need if you are struggling with it. It is the perfect graphic novel for teenagers struggling with their sexuality or even not – maybe they just will come to know who they really are.

Adrian’s experiences as a teen gay boy are universal. We have all gone through it – been that road – not only for LGBT teens but also the straight ones – to know oneself and to make peace with it is not easy – no matter what your orientation. There is also the angle of bullying at school and how Adrian meets someone special and what happens thereon. At the same time there is Adrian’s mom who is a devout Catholic – you get the drift, don’t you? Well, this in short is the plot of the graphic novel.

The story by Hubert and the illustrations by Marie Caillou go superbly hand in hand. The graphic panels are sparse and minimal and that lends to the story in more ways than one. I will not talk about the ending or else I would be spoiling it for you. The story is touching, will touch a nerve and I hope will make you see the LGBTQ community differently, because at the end of the day we are all the same kind of people looking for the one true thing: love.

Days without End by Sebastian Barry

Title: Days without End
Author: Sebastian Barry
Publisher: Viking, Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780525427360
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The more I think about “Days without End” by Sebastian Barry, the more I feel that I just must go back and reread it. This book is poetic to the point of it being heartbreaking and yet you can look at it objectively but not for long – because you will be swept away in this epic tale of the Wild West (and mind you, I don’t like these Wild West tales at all) that has such beauty about it even in the dark times that surround it – given the war with the Indians in the 1850s, soon followed by the Civil War.

Sebastian Barry’s characters are as human as they can get and there is no good or bad to it. You cannot pick sides and that’s the nature of war and love. Barry’s writing doesn’t come with layers of prose. He makes you see life, and not tell you anything. The show vs. tell craft is superlatively used in all his books (this being the 3rd that I read by him and can’t wait to gobble the rest). At the same time, there is this sense of stillness to his books – like a river flowing in the background whose gurgle you get used to till it is flooded – his writing is pretty much like that.

Thomas McNulty is seventeen years old and has fled famine in Ireland to come to the United States of America. He meets another orphan on the road, John Cole and they initially dress as women for 50 cents a dance to keep themselves from starvation. They head to the West, fighting the Indian wars, come back to civilian life, back in uniform for the Civil War. What will surprise you is how they build a family (I will not give away that part of the story) so for that you have to read the book.

This is the kind of book that makes you believe that love transcends all barriers – gender mostly and is pure. It doesn’t need validation and never has. It is not even a gay love story. It is just about love and that is enough. The sentences are mostly short but shine so much so that you would have to keep the book down and ruminate on each scenario and word that Sebastian Barry throws at you. His prose is short and subtle – painting the landscape with language as he goes along. The characters – even the minor ones like the Sergeant and the Major are well-etched. Some you love and some you hate.

“Days without End” is the kind of book that you will reread. You will do that because of the story, the setting and the emotions it will evoke inside of you. Might I also add that it isn’t for everyone – the writing has to grow on you but once it does, it is very difficult to let go of. A read not to be missed if you love the quiet life with some turmoil thrown in.

Gaysi Zine 05

The Gaysi Zine has come a long, long way. It is in its 5th issue now and I am so glad and proud to be associated with it for a couple of issues. Hope I get to write more for it. Having said that, this issue is fabulous – both in terms of content and design. I don’t just say this because of my association with them, but because it is the truth.

The zine is a heady mix of various forms of writing and when all of them unite – a common voice is heard – that of solidarity, justice, rights, love, companionship, soulfulness and the gritty reality of everyday living – of everyday queer living. There is a certain bite to the pieces in this zine – right from Ladybeard to Krass go beyond the traditional content pieces you see in magazine. There are also articles in the zine that break the mold and question authority at almost every page.

The illustrations communicate it all without saying anything. I think anyone then can connect and break the barrier of language and gender. What was also refreshing about this issue was that it looked beyond the urban LGBTQ landscape and was being more inclusive of smaller towns and giving them a voice – to their desires to say it all and not inhibit themselves.

Queer politics and narratives – let’s talk about this a bit. I have always believed that these are tricky territories to deal with, but the zine talks about them boldly, not shying away from issues at hand and definitely not hiding behind any invalid stance. All in all, I think this is my favourite issue of all time (though I did not contribute to it). Please pick it up. Unlearn all that you have been taught. Discover the world with a fresh perspective.

You can buy the zine here: http://gaysifamily.com/2017/01/23/the-gaysi-zine-issue-5-is-out-now/