10 International LGBTQIA+ Reads

10 LGBT International

Pride month may be over but that seems like a good reason to keep promoting LGBTQIA+ literature. I mostly read books by Western women of color because I seek out stories of marginalization at the intersection of gender and race. But I want to read more of the experiences of marginalized people from other countries and cultures, too. Since I cannot choose my reading freely at the moment, I love to make tbr lists of what to read when I’m done with uni. I know, procrastination, but you all get to take a peek:

Miaojin last word from montmatre

Last Words From Montmatre by Qio Miaojin (Taiwan)

Posthumously published, this is a short epistolary novel about heartbreak, female sexuality, language and transnational Asian identity. Warning for what is apparently an experimental and modernist style.

hairdresser

The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe)

Set in post-apartheid Zimbabwe, this book follows the rivalry and friendship of two hairdressers and takes a hard look at illegality and attitudes towards homosexuality. Have read it and can absolutely recommend it!

Black Bull, Ancestors and Me

Black Bull, Ancestors and Me by Nkunzi Zandile Nkabinde (South Africa)

This is a memoir of a sangoma, about life as a revered healer but also the difficult position of being a lesbian in a South African community. Resh, I think this is the healer book I was talking about!

twelve views

Twelve Views from the Distance by Matsuo Takahashi (Japan)

This is the memoir of the poet Takahashi about poverty, boyhood in rural Japan and becoming aware of his attraction to men before Western images of homosexuality were more widespread.

stone of laughter

The Stone of Laughter by Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)

Set around the Lebanese civil war, the novel follows a young gay man, Khalil, as he tries to escape political and military affiliations. This is said to be the first Arabic book with a gay main character, I had no idea.

lovetown

Lovetown by Michal Witkowski (Poland)

This one’s from Poland and about the clash between two generations of gay men, those who grew up in the age of communism and aids and the younger ones enjoying a post-communist world.

Red Azalea

Red Azalea by Anchee Min (China)

Min’s memoir about the last days of Mao’s China, being sent to work in a labor collective, finding solace in a relationship with another woman and then being recruited to work as an actress.

The Ucle's Story

The Uncle’s Story by Witi Ihimaera (New Zealand)

The book is about the story of both Michael Manahan and the titular uncle Sam, who fought in Vietnam and fell in love with an American soldier. Ihimaera writes about war, love and homophobia and the spaces for being gay in Maori and Western culture.

out

 Out! Stories From the New Queer India by Minal Hajratwala, ed. (India)

With the change in laws, more Indian stories about being ‘queer’ have been published and Hajratwala here collects different short stories about the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community in India. The anthology features established and emerging writers.

pillar of salt

Pillar of Salt by Salvador Novo (Mexico)

This is the memoir of Salvador Novo, a man of letters, about growing up during and after the Mexican revolution, coming to literature and living as an openly gay man in Mexican society.

Have you read any of these works? Or can you recommend more?

Sadly, this list skews towards the tragic, so I’d love recommendations that go beyond that single story. But perhaps it also shows what gets translated and what gets published. Getting LGBTQIA books out is obviously more difficult in some societies than others, but I’m glad I found some available in a language I can read, though I am curious to see what might have been translated into German, since Germany publishes a lot of translations, luckily.

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Thoughts: Twinkle Twinkle

twinkle

Twinkle Twinkle by Kaori Ekuni is a short novel (just 170 pages), which follows the story of Shoko and Mutsuki. When we meet them, they are only a short time into their marriage of convenience. Shoko suffers from depression and is an alcoholic, Mitsuki is gay and has been in a relationship with his boyfriend Kon for a long time. Their respective in-laws only know about the “defect” of their own child and are ecstatic that they got their children married.

The novel is told alternately from Shoko’s and Mutsuki’s perspective, a style which worked very well for me, blending and crashing both their perspectives and voices to tell their story. It’s a quirky and somewhat strange book, but the topics at the heart of it are important and dark.

First of all, there is the matter of their “defects”; Shoko’s mental illness and alcoholism are very serious problems, Mustsuki’s sexuality should not be one at all. Because of that they are both not considered ideal marriage partners, but their parents’ are desperate to see them married. Bowing to the constant pressure of their parents and Japanese society is how they end up married to each other.

I think this novel was originally written in the 90s and I have no idea whether things have now changed, but I had no idea the pressure to get married and have children in Japan was this great. There seems to be no place outside traditional gender roles and both characters are constantly told that everything will be alright once they are married and then once they have children. Shoko is completely ignored when she attempts to get help, because apparently marriage will magically fix it all.

They do seem to find a bit of comfort and understanding in each other. But with Mutsuki continuing, and Shoko insisting he continue, his relationship with Kon, they end up in a somewhat unconventional love-triangle. Although there is a suggestion that they find a solution that works for them all in the end, I have to say I am a bit unconvinced. It’s no small thing to be living with an alcoholic depressive, who has violent mood swings, and to be bound to someone who loves another person. Supposedly, the problems and moments of tension will be resolved with their solution, but throughout the story and over the couple of months of their marriage I could not really see how Shoko was more stable or drank less. And Mutsuki was mostly incredibly patient and understanding all the time.

This was the biggest problem for me, the characters. The secondary characters were very flat, especially the parents, who kept repeating the traditional, conservative tirade and not much else, they might as well have been walking posters. And Mutsuki, I simply don’t think that anyone can have his patience and tolerance all the time, and so I could seldom believe in him as a person. Shoko is the one character who stood out to me. In the beginning, I was afraid she would be another caricature of the mad woman, but slowly she became more three-dimensional: Trying to get professional help, enjoying being on her own, saying mean things and regretting them.

I did enjoy reading Twinkle Twinkle for its quirkiness, the sarcastic bright cover, its representation of mental illness, and the way it calls attention to gender roles in Japanese society. I read this novel as part of Tony’s January in Japan challenge. It seems that another Ekuni novel, God’s Boat, has been translated into English recently. I know I’ll want to give it a try.

 

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

 

Review: Strangers

If someone asked me I would say I absolutely love Japanese literature, and Banana Yoshimoto’s N.P. was such a reading experience, that I never noticed that I don’t actually read many Japanese novels! Which says a lot about Yoshimoto’s works (I’ve read and loved them all, though I haven’t read her newest work yet) but was an embarrassing realization for me. Still, I signed up for Bellezza’s fifth Japanese Literature Challenge, which is a wonderful opportunity to read more works by Japanese authors and get lots of recommendations from others.

Do you have certain books you pick up many times but ultimately put back on the shelf again? I do that a lot, somehow I’m always drawn to the same covers but am unsure about the plot or style. On my last visit to the library, I finally looted Strangers by Taichi Yamada.

Strangers is about Hideo Harada, a tv script-writer in his late forties. Since the divorce from his wife he has moved into his office, a place which is both loud from nearby traffic and eerily quiet as everyone else leaves in the evening. One night however, he notices that one other window is lit and shortly after meets its occupant, a beautiful young woman with whom he starts an affair. One day he decides to visit his childhood home in Asakusa, where he meets a couple who look exactly like his parents who died in a motorcycle crash when Hideo was twelve. Although he tries to convince himself that he is suffering from hallucinations, he cannot resist parental care and love and keeps visiting his parents who now look younger than he is himself. However, with each visit he appears closer and closer to death himself as his gaunt and gray looks begin to scare the people around him.

Yamada’s novel is an eerie, wonderfully atmospheric ghost story told in sparse prose. Is this elegant sparse prose typical for Japanese literature? It seems to be from my limited experience. I’m tempted to compare the prose style to the Japanese cuisine but perhaps labeling it sparse would incur the wrath of those who know better? 😉 While I’m drawn to the explosion of aroma that is Indian cooking, I love the opposite when it comes to prose style.

Strangers plays with reality and illusion and like Hideo you can never be quite sure which is which. Yamada has set his ghost story in an urban environment, and despite or because of the huge population of Tokyo, his characters are desperately lonely people. I’d love to say more about Hideo’s relationship with the dead which is so very different from that with the real people in his life, but I’m afraid to spoil things for those who haven’t read the novel. I don’t think the ending will come as a complete surprise, and despite the shortness of this book I felt it dragged a bit in the middle, but the mood was always atmospheric and made me read on. I wonder if this is perhaps an early novel? Although I really enjoyed Strangers and will recommend it to others, I do think that there was more potential to the story and Yamada can do better. I’ll have to check what else has been translated of his works, any recommendations?

Other thoughts:

Dolce Bellezza

Things Mean A Lot

The Parrish Lantern

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Review: Hotel Iris

I read Hotel Iris because of Jo and Vishy’s reviews, and I wanted to read some more Japanese literature. A couple of years ago I discovered Banana Yoshimoto’s works and she has since become one of my favorite authors, but somehow I never got around to trying other Japanese writers’ works (except for one Murakami). So this is your chance to convince me of that one Japanese book I simply have to read! 🙂

Hotel Iris tells the story of a sadomasochistic relationship between 17-year-old Mari and a significantly older man, only referred to as the translator. She lives with her mother in their seaside hotel, Hotel Iris. Mari’s word is very small and for the most part reduced to the hotel in which she slaves away and  which she hardly ever leaves.  She gets glimpses of the world through the guests, and one night she witnesses a prostitute being thrown out of a room and loudly insulting the guest, an older man who strikes Mari as utterly dignified and entrances her with his commanding voice. She follows him and falls in love with a man who sexually dominates and humiliates her.

Thanks to Jo, I was sufficiently warned about the sado-masochist context but apart from Mari’s age I didn’t really find the topic that disturbing. The real taboo here for me was the relationship between a young inexperienced girl and an older experienced man. Despite the fact that Ogawa depicts the translator as reserved and even somewhat shy in his behaviour toward Mari in public, their sexual relationship reinforces the typical power relations of gender and age. However, Ogawa exclusively depicts this relationship through the eyes of Mari and so we only get one side of the story, and Mari is not prone to reflecting on her life.  And the introduction of the translator’s nephew questions the assumption that Mari is the one who is powerless and dependent on the translator. For all that Ogawa chose such a complex topic, she does not seem to be overly interested in exploring its moral grey areas. Her characters are stripped down to their essentials, as is her prose style. I wouldn’t really recommend this work to people who value complex characters,over everything else, but Ogawa does make up for it with atmosphere. Perhaps mood and characterization go hand in hand here; to achieve such atmospheric writing, you have to create characters that seem to float through the narrative and remain elusive.

I very much enjoyed reading Hotel Iris and Ogawa introduces interesting themes and topics, such as power relations, eroticism and death, violence and beauty. The problem is that she does not make use of them, or where she does it’s kept superficial. I think that a more reflective main character could have done a lot for this novel. Still, it was a very interesting read, it was fascinating how Ogawa manages to create a dreamy atmosphere through a sparse prose style. Which Ogawa work should I turn to next?

 

Other thoughts:

Bibliojunkie

Vishy’s blog