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.

Thoughts: Marzi

marzi

The graphic memoir Marzi (yes another one of those!) is the result of the collaboration between Marzena Sowa, writer, and her partner Sylvain Savoia, artist. It tells Sowa’s story of her childhood in communist Poland, between 1984 and 1987, in a series of vignettes.

 A child narrator sharing her experience of growing up during a time of political upheaval that sounds familiar! Comparisons with Satrapi’s Persepolis can be made. Marzi, too, uses the idea of the universal child to draw in readers and remind that they were still people trying to live a normal life, going to school and running errands. The strength of this memoir lies in the child perspective, which I think is very convincingly done.  Marzi’s voice rings true not only when she tries to make sense of the adult world, but also while playing with her friends and going to school. Making the seemingly banal, everyday convincing seems to me to be a much more difficult job than extraordinary moments. But for all the similarities, Marzi is quite another thing altogether.

 I’m quite happy that by reading Marzi I got to discover Poland in the 1980s. I’m not sure what everyone’s experience with Poland and Polish literature is, but this book reminded me how close Poland is and yet how little I still know about it. I have Polish friends, been to Poland a couple of times and I vividly remember one childhood friend who wasn’t allowed to play outside for too long, because her mother was afraid that thanks to Chernobyl it would be too dangerous. We lived in the most Western part of Germany, but still. So it’s always been there, but not there. Perhaps I should try not to forget what’s quite close, when I read Japanese fiction etc.

 So the Chernobyl catastrophe is one of the important political events Marzi experiences during her childhood and I especially love this page, which shows what she as a child remembers of the event:

 marzi1-2

What she remembers is closed windows and doors and waiting inside, even though it’s hot outside and yelling adults and having to drink foul-tasting medicine. The third panel shows how Marzi and her father are surrounded by the adults’ angry speculations. The next panel depicts a young boy “who is apparently better informed” telling Marzi that what’s going on (“It’s a smoke that’s very dangerous for people…and mushrooms”). Compared to the yelling adults, the boy really does appear to be the one who is informed and the children have to rely on each other to find out what is going on.

 I also wanted to show you a page from the comic to give you an impression of the drawing style. I can’t really read a comic if I find the style off-putting, no matter how great the story. From the cover of Marzi, and especially the character, I was afraid the style would tend towards manga, but the comic is really quite traditional and detailed. It’s only Marzi, especially her eyes, who stands out. As you can see from the page, the colors are a sort of reddish-brown, the muted, somewhat depressing background contrasts sharply with Marzi’s brightness. You can see what sort of story this is going to be from just this contrast. So that’s really well-done. The strict organization of the panels is never broken and while I prefer artists to play around with the format, I find that it works in Marzi; the structure looks like a photo book to me and thereby mirrors the episodic structure of the story.

 The problem with this vignettes style, and with collecting them in one book, can be the lack of overarching story. I really enjoyed the episodes in themselves, but when it became clear, that a larger story was not going to happen, I changed my reading style. Reading one episode, taking a break, then reading the next worked much better for me than reading it in one sitting. I became less impatient, started to focus more on the vignettes as closed stories and as a result enjoyed the book a whole lot more.

I’ve learned a lot in the last two years about graphic literature, but I was basically convinced of their potential by studying Maus and Persepolis and Fun Home. The bad thing about this is that I now probably have ridiculous expectations. While Marzi has a strong protagonist and fascinating political background and is drawn very well, this is not the kind of comic that makes you spend two hours decoding a single panel.

But then, not every comic has to push the form and use all it has to offer. Marzi is an important book in that it draws attention to the more recent history of Poland under Jaruzelski, Chernobyl and the Solidarnosc union, but also reminds that these were not simply notable points in history, but that actual people were trying to live normal lives. This alternation of the universal and the strange is perhaps Marzi’s best achievement.

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