Category Archives: LGBTQIA Literature

Read 110 of 2022. Bolla by Pajtim Statovci. Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston.

Bolla by Pajtim Statovci

Title: Bolla
Author: Pajtim Statovci
Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston
Publisher: Pantheon Books
ISBN: 9781524749200
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I finished reading Bolla at a time when I am most disillusioned by love – more so when it comes to same-gender love. I am confused, whether it exists or not, whether it is possible for forever together, and happiness to be possible. If anything at all, can two men love each other? Can they truly love each other?

I am not going to say that Bolla answered these questions of mine, because they are too vague, and perhaps not to nuanced to be met with answers anyway. But what Bolla did was, it reaffirmed the fact that love isn’t easy, neither is it as simple as it seems on paper, nor is it moral, and almost never in sync with what you expect.

Bolla is a story beyond two men and their loves and lives. It is also the story of conflict between the Serbs and the Albanians, the Kosovo war, what happens to people torn by war, and in all of this – it is a story of self, identity, the confusion that rises from finding yourself, and the lengths one will go to, to do that.

Bolla makes you go through a series of emotions – from love, to lust, to wanting what the two men have, to not want it at all, to getting angry at one of them because of his choices, and perhaps then understanding his state of being, mind, and heart. You pick sides while reading this book, and then you don’t.

As a reader, I was overwhelmed in the beginning, angry at mid-point, sad right through the read, judgmental, and then wasn’t because you don’t take sides in a story where there are so many blurred lines. At some point, reading the journal entries of Miloš, I couldn’t tell if the narrator was then reliable or not.

Statovci is a genius. A master who doesn’t believe in telling all, neither does he show all. It is a beautiful balance of the two – a lyrical meditation on what we lose, how we gain, and what remains in the end.

Bolla is about self-loathing, how much are we willing to be honest to ourselves, and at what cost – it is about affairs and lives cut short, about the selfish nature of living, and all of this comes together so alive and beautiful only because of David Hackston’s most wondrous translation (whose name I wish was on the cover) from the original Finnish. Hackston never once made me feel that I was reading a translation. It was so clear, lucid, and made me feel everything that perhaps Statovci intended his readers to feel.

Bolla will not leave me very soon. It has nestled and made way inside my heart, like a snake – the mythical being the story refers and comes back to again and again. It is intimate, raw, questioning our endurance, how we don’t sometimes want the past to merge with our present, of how intertwined they all are, and above all it is about being graceful, tender, and learning to love and forgive ourselves, so we can perhaps heal.

Read 101 of 2022. Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

Title: Time is a Mother
Author: Ocean Vuong
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN: 9781787333840
Genre: Poetry, LGBTQIA
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2/5

I tried very hard to like this book. I tried very hard to make sense of it even but couldn’t. Maybe this book isn’t meant for me, but I shall speak about what worked for me and what did not.

Let me go back a little in time and recall the moment I finished reading “Night Sky with Exit Wounds”, and the rush and sheer melancholic feeling that came over me like a huge wave. That I still remember. I remember the anguish and the pain of the poems that I could comprehend, and they hit me so hard.

I think to a large extent I also connected with his novel, “On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous” – and all that it had to say about relationships, about mothers and sons, about being queer and your relationship with the one person whose validation means the most to you (your mother, of course). And yet somehow, I couldn’t feel all of this and more while reading, “Time is a Mother”.

“Time is a Mother” is a collection of poems in four parts, that mainly focuses on grief – in the wake of Vuong’s mother’s death, of loneliness, of being queer, of making sense of the world through one’s different phases of life, and ultimately it is also about acceptance, grieving, and moving on.

The poems are heartbreaking (well, some of them for me were outstanding), and also lean toward prose style but I just didn’t get this collection, like maybe I should have. Maybe at the end of the day, this book wasn’t meant for this reader.

It has some beautiful lines – this collection but on their own. They sadly do not culminate into something as beautiful overall when it comes to the complete poem. For instance, a poem “Amazon History of a Former Nail Salon Worker” just didn’t make sense to me, and I tried so hard to look for the profundity but couldn’t. Some of the poems that did work for me were, “Not Even”, “Reasons for Staying”, and “Woodworking at the End of the World” – maybe because they made so much sense to me in all their fragility, tenderness, and in celebrating differences.

Time is a Mother was a read I was so eager to read this year, and yet it just did not live up to Night Sky with Exit Wounds. It was just space and space and more blank space with a lot of words and sentences I couldn’t make sense of.

Read 71 of 2022. Greenland by David Santos Donaldson.

Greenland by David Santos Donaldson

Title: Greenland
Author: David Santos Donaldson
Publisher: Amistad, HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780063159556
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have just finished reading “Greenland” by David Santos Donaldson, and there is so much unpacking to be done – not only where the book is concerned but also when it comes to my life. As a brown gay man, facing a terrible mid-life crisis, and trying to adjust to the world that’s rapidly changing around him, I couldn’t identify more with Kip, the gay black narrator of the novel.

Kip Starling has decided to rewrite his novel in three weeks by locking himself in the basement. His novel takes him in the mind of Mohammed el Adl, E.M. Forster’s secret lover, who was also a Black queer man like Kip.  This is where it all begins for Kip, or rather unravels. His need to be seen and heard, and then the juxtaposition of his life to that of Mohammed’s – both the other, both trying hard to fit in, both with great education and yet feels not accounting for much, each with white lovers, almost not knowing what to do with them. Each with a burden of their own.

While reading this novel, there were so many times I thought I was reading my life, or at least portions of it. It is funny how art and life get mixed-up sometimes, that you cannot differentiate one from the other.

As Kip navigates to find himself in the process of writing the book, I was doing the same with some parts of my life that felt strangely familiar and ones I could relate to from the book. That’s the power of good storytelling – of how it makes you subconsciously see within.

Kip’s struggles are evident – the way not the world sees him as a queer Black man but the way he sees himself in relation to that. Donaldson takes us to the core of the book with Kip’s psyche – the fact that he was named after Kipling – a writer who has been labelled a colonialist, a jingoist, and a racist, speaks volumes about how Kip would turn out to be. The struggle to understand if he is black enough and how much black – when he starts dating white men, to trying to fit in with the “black community” at college, or even when simply trying to overcome his insecurities, he doubts, he second-guesses, he doesn’t have the confidence to perhaps be black. 

Kip’s life then became mine – the struggle to fit in, to write my book, to understand where I come from, and be accepting of it, but more than anything else to embrace love when it is in my way. More than anything else, as a reader I was immensely drawn to the novel within the novel – when Kip’s and Mohammed’s voices became the same, when they were clearly different, when they both sought refuge in each other, and when they both tried to hide. Donaldson brings out all these elements with an honesty that shocks, surprises, and ultimately makes you surrender to the text. 

Greenland is a book about love, about coming to terms with yourself repeatedly, about knowing when to give up and when to get back up and start all over. It is a book that is tender, full of angst (or at least that’s what I thought as a typical gay man – and proud of it), and about what it takes to be in interracial relationships.

David’s writing is refreshing – at no point did I feel that I was reading something already written, though I am sure there are several books that speak of the LGBTQIA theme, linking it to a novel within a novel, but it shows that David has a fondness for E.M. Forster and that translates sublimely into this text.

The redemptive power of literature is constant – almost in every chapter, as a subtext, moving slowly, seen at times, but reminding the reader that literature can save us and does.

Greenland is a fantastic debut – one that isn’t shy of exploring difficult and complex emotions. It is a grand debut in the sense that it takes it risks and leaves the reader with awe, joy, melancholy, and ultimately with the knowledge that relationships are not easy and take a lot from you.