Tag Archives: LGBTQIA Literature

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.

Read 31 of 2022. Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu. Translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao

Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Title: Happy Stories, Mostly
Author: Norman Erikson Pasaribu
Translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao
Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284635
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 173
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Another queer read from the International Booker Prize 2022 Longlist and I couldn’t be happier. I am so glad that queer voices are finally getting the attention and space, we have been jostling for since forever.

This collection of short stories is a punch to the gut, but perhaps quietly, more aware of what the stories are going to do to the reader, so they go gentle into the night, and spring up on you, astonishing you with their might and power.

There is a lot going on in this collection of short stories – intersection is key – from religion to gender identity to sexual orientation – they all intersect with each other and with marginalized lives, always striving and hoping for more to materialize.

All of the stories though come to the point of dealing with homosexuality – the isolation and what it means to be queer. Whether it is a mother in mourning for her son who took his life, or a friendship at a crossroads when a man discovers his best friend (well, sort of) is gay or when a woman discovers something about her husband, all these stories are on the periphery of the seen and the unseen.

I could connect with some stories a lot more than the others, as is the case with any short-story collection. Not all work for most people. But the ones that stood out the most for me was “So What’s Your Name, Sandra?”.

These stories speak to each other in an uncanny manner. The stories aren’t interconnected and yet it feels that way, maybe because of all the queer people navigating the straight world – with also religion playing such an important role throughout the book.

The writing is raw, vivid, and sparse in most parts, which makes the translation by Tiffany Tsao even more delicious -to see the lengths she has gone through to keep the prose intact. You can tell that as a reader.

The idea to break away from heteronormativity and how difficult that is, is explored through all these stories. The jealousies, the misunderstandings, the anguish of the other is seen so starkly, along with the stigma of coming out in a society that just will not notice you.

I hope more such voices get published and promoted. The LGBTQIA+ community could do with all these voices and more, telling our stories, the way we see them, feel them, and live them every single day.

Read 30 of 2022. Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park. Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur

Love in the Big City by Sang Young ParkTitle: Love in the Big City
Author: Sang Young Park
Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur Publisher: Tilted Axis Press
ISBN: 978-1911284659
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction Pages: 231
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Sang Young Park’s prose along with the translation of Anton Hur did for me what Sally Rooney couldn’t, and I have finally found my closure for not enjoying any of Rooney’s works.

Disclaimer: This is the only time I have brought up Rooney in this review.

Love in the Big City is again one of the International Booker 2022 Long-listed titles that resonated with me like no other, besides Heaven. It is a story of friendship, of love, of lust, and essentially of what it is to navigate all of this in a big city. It is messy, it is loud, and sometimes insufferable as well – the way all love is meant to be, but Sang Young Park and Anton Hur give it another dimension – that of pained self-realisation and temperaments that constantly hover on the page.

The story is of the narrator, Young, and his coming-of-age – from college to postgraduate life in Seoul. The book is about the loves of his life (some not so much loves as episodes of lust) – his roommate, Jaehee who moves out after marriage, his cancer-stricken mother, his activist ex he calls Hyung, and Gyu-ho, who makes up most of the second half of the novel.

As a middle-aged (I cannot even bring myself to say it but it’s the truth) gay man in India, I could relate to so much of the book. Of the relationship with the mother – constantly mercurial, of the men in his life, and of a woman who is your best friend and most of all the gay identity that runs throughout the book.

Young is complicated. It is not easy to like Young and yet you do, because we see so much of ourselves in Young, at least I did.  We lead quiet queer lives, till it isn’t all that quiet anymore. The transformation of the queer life from the 20s to mid-30s is mind-boggling. We go from one extreme to another. We want to be visible and that’s what Young does till he doesn’t want to be unacknowledged.

Relationships are fragile, emotions even more so. The translation by Anton Hur depicts all of this and more, adding a new dimension of his own to the novel. The pride and shame and loneliness of being gay is so apparent and palpable that it scared me as a single gay man in the big city – where everything is big and sometimes all you need is small, tender expressions of love. I search for them. Constantly.

Read 228 of 2021. Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Title: Jonny Appleseed
Author: Joshua Whitehead
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
ISBN: 978-1551527253
Genre: LGBTQ+ Literary Fiction, Native American Literature,
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Jonny Appleseed decides to come back home to his mother after her husband dies. Jonny is a Two-Spirit Inidigiqueer “glitter princess” and has about a week leading up to his journey.  In that week Jonny goes through the entire gamut of emotions – love, hate, loathing, trauma of growing up on the rez – personal and collective, and more than anything about his dreams and aspirations.

What I loved about this book is the focus of course on everything not-colonial, even love, more so love. The book is about Jonny and the women in his life as well – his kokum (grandmother) his friends, his mother, Peggy, and as well as his Tias – the one person from where all the queer loving comes and nestles in his heart and soul. Their interactions with Jonny are also governed by day to day activities – from a meal to a recipe to how the whites try and erase the Native American community. There is so much going on in this short book that at times I just had to shut it and process everything Whitehead was trying to communicate.

Add to this there is technology and how Jonny uses it to facilitate sex work, allowing lonely men to somewhat fetishize his culture and where he comes from, and in all of this there is trauma and pain and healing that Whitehead manages to write about in the most brutal and also sublime manner.

Whitehead’s writing doesn’t cut corners on emotions. He says it the way it is – intense, with racism, sexism, homophobia, and how it impacts indigenous minds, hearts, and souls in addition to what they go through.  All of this is told to us through Jonny. You root for him. You want his life to be better. You want him to meet his mother as soon as possible. You don’t want him to suffer. But he must follow his heart and destiny, and things will happen, but in all of this, there is togetherness, a celebration of love and longing, and how to finally find your roots and identity.

Read 174 of 2021: The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Title: The Magic Fish
Author: Trung Le Nguyen
Publisher: Random House Graphic
ISBN: 978-0593125298
Genre: Graphic Novels, LGBTQIA, Coming of Age, 
Pages: 256 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

I wish someone had written this book for me when I was growing up. When I was dealing with my sexuality and didn’t know any better. I wish I knew how to tell my parents and family I was gay using words that would break their hard exterior and touch their heart and soul, which of course didn’t happen. I just came out and that was that. The Magic Fish however is a book that seems to know what to say and how and is more beautiful for it.

Tiến loves his family and friends. His parents hail from Vietnam and he is keeping a secret from them – about himself, about who he is, about how he cannot tell them that he is gay because there is no equivalent for it in Vietnamese. It is also about his love for a friend, and him struggling with his identity.

At the same time, Nguyen takes us on a whirlwind of providing comfort to yourself through fairy tales. Tiến and his mother read fairy tales to each other, every night, and in those tales, each of them is trying to find and know more about their lives – the past, present, and perhaps the future.

I love how Nguyen takes the concept of a fairy tale and throws it on its head and gives his readers something so refreshing to introspect about. The Magic Fish is a book that refreshingly looks at fairy tales keeping modern lives in mind. It doesn’t shy away from breaking norms and stereotypes, which is the need of the hour and the times we live in. Trung’s art is stunning and you need to spend some time on every page to soak it all in. In short, The Magic Fish is a read meant for all, to make people understand that people lead different lives and it is all about perspective and empathy.