Tag Archives: disease

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell Title: What Belongs to You
Author: Garth Greenwell
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1447280514
Genre: Literary fiction, LGBTQ Fiction
Pages: 204
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Love is a mystery. I have still not been able to figure it out and more so, know what role I play in its larger plan for me, if it does have any plan laid out for me that is. I had been putting off reading “What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell for the longest time. I know why. Let me share it with you. It is because in my head it was about unrequited love (which it is) and about disease (again it is about that), but above all it was about selfish love mostly and I had been through it. I thought I would read it and it will all come back to me, haunting me all over again, but it did not. I read the book and all I can say with utmost confidence is that you must read it – everyone must. Though it is about gay love, but love is love after all and hence this book will make that impact felt deeply with readers who have loved or aspire to fall in love.

“What Belongs to You” is about a nameless narrator – an American male, whose name and age is not mentioned, teaching at an institute in Sofia – the capital city of Bulgaria and his encounter with a local rent boy, Mitko. The book is about the narrator’s love and desire for Mitko. I wish I could say the book is just about that and leave it at that – but I can’t do that, because it wouldn’t do justice to the book. “What Belongs to You” is a landscape of desire, which is undone for its characters. Their loves are undone. Their desires do not see the light of day and how emotional and monetary exchanges build or rather feed on people’s weaknesses.

The book reads like a confession – the narrator speaks of his encounter with Mitko one fine day at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia and this is how the book begins. Lust is on the fore of this highly emotional roller-coaster of a ride novel. Greenwell somehow eases the reader into the first encounter between the narrator and rent boy. They are obviously to meet on more than one occasion – money will exchange hands in place of sexual favors and this is how the world is – there is really no awkwardness from Mitko’s side as this is what he does for a living, but one can sense the narrator’s discomfort and how he is pulled apart by his love for Mitko (possessive, envious, the kind of love we have all been through) and his past – his relationship with his father as he came out, the boy he loved (K) and how all he wanted was his father to accept and love him for who he was. Greenwell manages this with great tenderness and tact and this was the part of the novel, where I actually cried. I could relate to the dynamics as it would have played out with my father, which it never did and this continues to be one of my biggest regrets.

The narrator leaves Mitko many times in the course of the book. He realizes that perhaps Mitko at some point is toxic and he needs to find his own, because Mitko all said and done will never love him.

“As I had cause to think before, of how helpless desire is outside its little theatre of heat, how ridiculous it becomes the moment it isn’t welcomed, even if the welcome is contrived”

The third and final part of the book is about Mitko’s return – and the part which is most gut-wrenching as it is about disease and how the two cope with it in their own way. The narrator by now has a boyfriend R and the relationship dynamics there I thought were rushed a little. Having said that, what struck me at this point was the xenophobia which was subtly displayed as the narrator goes from clinic to clinic getting tests done. At the same time, the concept of fear was delicately probed time and again and yet amidst all of this is the unrequited love and desire that hangs in the balance. Greenwell never lets you forget for once that the book is about people who love, lose, falter, make terrible decisions, try and become better people in all probability and have no one to go to but themselves.

“What Belongs to You” to me was one of the highlight novels I’ve read this year. It definitely features in my Top 10 reads of the year so far and all I can say is that you have to go and pick up this novel – read it at leisure, soak in the emotions and pray and hope that you aren’t caught weeping uncontrollably.

Advertisements

Koolaids by Rabih Alameddine

Koolaids by Rabih Alameddine Title: Koolaids
Author: Rabih Alameddine
Publisher: Grove Press
ISBN: 978-0802124142
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal
Rating: 5/5

When you write a book about AIDS and what it brings in its wake, is not an easy task for sure. Rabih Alameddine jumped to the scene and was well-known right after “An Unnecessary Woman”. The book just jumped at readers and they I think too notice of him then. Of course before that, there was “Koolaids” and some more books that he had written but this discussion is about “Koolaids”.

I wonder if being sane means disregarding the chaos that is life, pretending only an infinitesimal segment of it is reality.

To me reading “Koolaids” was a harrowing experience. Why? Because I am gay and I didn’t know how to react to a book on AIDS, and what it takes in its wake. I cannot for the life of me imagine something like this happening to me or my loved ones, so whenever I read something like this, I am completely overwhelmed by it.

Death comes in many shapes and sizes, but it always comes. No one escapes the little tag on the big toe. The four horsemen approach. The rider on the red horse says, “This good and faithful servant is ready. He knoweth war.” The rider on the black horse says, “This good and faithful servant is ready. He knoweth plague.” The rider on the pale horse says, “This good and faithful servant is ready. He knoweth death.” The rider on the white horse says, “Fuck this good and faithful servant. He is a non-Christian homosexual, for God’s sake. You brought me all the way out here for a fucking fag, a heathen. I didn’t die for this dingbat’s sins.” The irascible rider on the white horse leads the other three lemmings away. The hospital bed hurts my back.

“Koolaids” is about men who love men, men who suffer by loving men and men who cope as their worlds fall apart and changes around them. It is a fresh new voice (then when the book released) and is very different from his other books. It details the AIDS epidemic through the 80s and the 90s and with that the angle of the Lebanese Civil War that accounts for the book.

The characters are plenty – they love and dream in fragments. As a reader, I just gave in to the book without trying to make much of it in the first fifty pages and when I started, I was too entranced by the language and over all plot to care about the writing.

“Koolaids” is what it is – a gritty and real book on what it takes to go on living in the face of death and how to sometimes just give in, knowing that nothing can be done now. It is stories such as these that deeply affect us and our lives.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa Genova Title: Still Alice
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Pocket Books, Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 9781501106422
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 353
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

One of the many diseases of old-age that I am most frightened of is Alzheimer’s. The thought of losing all memory, day by day and not knowing anything at all makes me break into a sweat. The idea of not recognizing your loved ones even more so. I don’t think anyone should go through that torture. It is just one of those diseases that take everything away from you.

So when you read a book where the disease is almost the protagonist, you are completely overwhelmed and more than anything else you also cheer for the person for being a survivor and battling it at all costs. Dr. Alice Howland has it all going for her. She is a psychiatry professor at Harvard. She has three children and a loving husband. She is fifty years of age and Alzheimer’s has struck. It is about her family coping with her disease and how their lives change forever. “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova is a book that will make you think about life and death and the consequences of life being too short.

Genova skillfully explores Alzheimer’s through Alice. The onset of it and the rapid progression as shown from September 2002 to September 2005 will make you turn the pages and feel for Alice and her family, which maybe you must not have in a very long time. For instance, the unwell Alice spotting a message the healthier Alice left on voicemail and figuring what it was will absolutely break your heart. There are many such instances throughout the book.

I was majorly taken in by the book because Alzheimer’s is one thing that has always intrigued me. One day you know it all and the other you are reduced to becoming someone who can’t even remember his or her name. “Still Alice” had me in from the very first page and did not let go of me at all. I recommend this to all readers – it will appeal to everyone and probably also make you realize that time is too short and life must be lived nonetheless.

Affiliate Link:

Still Alice