Category Archives: LGBTQIA Reads

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi Title: The Death of Vivek Oji
Author: Akwaeke Emezi
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 978-0571350988
Genre: Literary Fiction, Coming of Age Fiction, LGBTQIA Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is going to be a short note, because this book is under embargo and I cannot post a review as of now. All I can say is that you must read, “The Death of Vivek Oji” by Akwaeke Emezi when it’s out. They have written it with a lot of love and heart.

The story is about Vivek Oji and his death and life – and what led to his death. It is about his homosexuality or even gender fluidity (or so it seems at various points in the book) in a place where LGBT rights are not recognised, and it is a crime to be gay.

The book is set in Owerri, one of the largest cities in Nigeria. It is about the differences that exist – the Nigerwives (as they are called) – who don’t belong to Nigeria but marry men from there, their children, the lives they lead, and above all the patriarchy that doesn’t let you be. The patriarchy of the Nigerian society that is so deep-rooted with all its hypocrisy is mind-numbing to read.

Emezi in their writing brings so much to fore that it compels you to understand and read more of the culture the book is set in. The book then is not just about Vivek Oji and who he was, but all the other characters as well – each trying very hard to find themselves.

A longer review will be up in August when I can talk more about the book. For now, this will do. But please do read it when you get the chance to.

 

The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan

The Clothesline Swing Title: The Clothesline Swing
Author: Ahmad Danny Ramadan
Publisher: The Indigo Press
ISBN: 9781999683368
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQIA Fiction
Pages: 220
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I do not know how to review this book. I shall try. I hope I do justice to it. This book is everything – heart, soul, passionate, full of life, despair, about the secrets we keep, and how we finally are undone in the end. The Clothesline Swing is inspired by One Thousand and One Nights. It is all sorts of beautiful, and hopeful in brutal times and that’s what we need right now more than ever – to hang on to hope.

The Clothesline Swing is everyone’s story in that sense and yet so specific to place and time. It is the story of two lovers who live away from home, and are anchored to it in all heart and soul. It is the story of a dying Syria and their memories attached to it. One is the storyteller, who keeps life going through fables and stories from their youth to his dying partner. Each night he tells his partner stories of Damascus, of childhood, of leaving home in fear of being persecuted for being homosexuals, of a hard life, and how he met his lover and life thereon. In all of this, there is Death – its all pervasiveness – waiting patiently, listening to stories – night after night.

This book hit me hard – it is brutal and honest and doesn’t shy away from speaking of what gay men go through. The brutality, the violence, the shame, the love, and kindness in places least expected is all there – for all to read. Ahmad Danny Ramadan’s writing doesn’t get maudlin – it doesn’t enter the zone of pity, but it does become joyful after all the struggle. At the same time, it doesn’t take away from the struggle and the immigrant experience. That is another track in the book that shines.

The Clothesline Swing is about forbidden love, about home that is no longer home – or will always be in memory, it is about the stories that keep us alive and make us live one day to the next, it is also about pain and suffering, and love and beauty, and healing – for the characters, the author, and the readers.

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.

The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep by Chana Porter Title: The Seep
Author: Chana Porter
Publisher: Soho Press
ISBN: 978-1641290869
Genre: LGBT Science Fiction, Absurdist Fiction
Pages: 216
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Seep is a book that I can say with utmost guarantee, comes once in a lifetime. Perhaps more than once, but books such as The Seep that engulf you, and evoke emotions and questions, and more than anything else make you a part of another world – one that is very much rooted in yours, or is what we might term an “idyllic existence”.

The Seep is about alien invasion. I wouldn’t want to call it an invasion, but more like an intervention (or that’s what the aliens think). The Seep is the alien entity. The invasion has been coming for years. Trina FastHorse Goldberg-Oneka is a fifty-year-old trans woman whose life is altered unrecognisably by the invasion. The Seep assures people that anything is possible, and it is. You can be who you want to be. Live different lives, and die the way you want to. You can choose, capitalism falls, hierarchies are broken down. Anything is possible, and all for the good of the people.

Trina and her wife, Deeba, live a peaceful life, till Deeba decides to be reborn as a baby. She moves on to live that life, leaving Trina devastated beyond words. In all of this Trina meets a lost boy and takes it on her to save him from The Seep (why the saving is needed is only clear when you read the book).

The Seep could also be an allegory of our times. It could also be an entity who lures, and alters you beyond belief. Trina’s story is also that of a heartbreak, of loss, of loss in times that you do not fathom, and more than anything else when the world around you is constantly changing.

Porter’s writing makes you think of all the changes, and our reactions to them – individually and collectively. It made me see what makes us human (of course not in totality, but to some extent). Also, might I add that you need not be a fan of science fiction to enjoy and love this book. The story is absurd for sure, but works on a lot of levels. There are great and large themes explored in the book and that’s what makes it literary. Also, major props to the cover design by Michael Morris – it is beguiling and will most certainly make you want to read this cracker of a book.

The Seep to me is a book for our times. Read it.

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.