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.

Review: The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam

The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam “tells the story of two young sisters, Nyree and Cia O’Callohan, who live on a remote farm in the East of what was Rhodesia in the late 1970s. Beneath the dripping vines of the Vumba rainforest, and under the tutelage of their heretical grandfather, Oupa, theirs is a seductive world laced with African paganism, bastardised Catholicism and the lore of the Brothers Grimm – until their idyll is shattered forever by their orphaned cousin, Ronin” (littlebrown.co.uk).

I should probably warn you all right now that despite the fluffy and fun title, this is not a light book. The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam is most of all a tale about a childhood in Rhodesia of the 1970s, just before it became Zimbabwe under Mugabe. Although there is a prologue from a grown-up Nyree, the story is narrated by her 8 year old self. Nyree is an intelligent child, very close to her younger sister Cia, and makes for a very likable  character and narrator. I especially like how she embedded scoldings and opinions of her mother and Oupa (grandfather) in her narration:

“Oupa is supposed to be helping me with my homework, but he´ll be buggered if he´s going to play governess now on top of being nanny”

Together with Cia, Nyree wanders very freely around her parents farm and the surrounding area. They experience Rhodesia´s wild and dangerous beauty in a way that is both practical (they know all about worms and snakes and watch chickens get butchered) and magical (waiting for their wings to grow so that they can fly with the fairies). They listens constantly to their Oupa´s carelessly racist comments and of course attend an all-white school, but they are intrigued by the African myths and very close to the farm´s main worker Jobe and his wife Blessing.

While their father is off fighting the Terrs (terrorists) and the situation between the Africans and the white settlers gets more and more dangerous, their bastard cousin Ronin arrives on the farm. It is him more than anything who is a danger to their world. The last days of Rhodesia are noticed but not as immediate to them.

Their father is thus only in their lives when he is on leave and it is their Oupa and their mother who are their main influence. Oupa is definitely racist, but in a curiously offhand way, perhaps this comes with growing up that way and viewing his superior position as white farmer as normal. Liebenberg does not excuse his comments or position but she does not make him a weak cardboard character either. Through Nyree´s eyes Oupa is shown to be very attached to his granddaughters although they are no heirs but only “lasses”, and we see that in his age he has not much but his stories to live on, as the country he has known and grown up in is changing and dying.

The children´s mother takes on the role of farm owner and baas (boss) in her husband´s absence and Nyree tells us that her mother changes from the soft, nice-smelling woman into a harder version who commands the workers and wears her husband´s shirts. Through the eyes of a child all these changes are noticed and as readers we can make up our own minds about the causes and effects of absent fathers, working mothers, old grandfathers and the last days of Rhodesia.

The author, Liebenberg, grew up in South Africa and her knowledge and love for the country show through in this novel. The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam is also full of Afrikaans, Rhodesian and Zulu slang, but this adds to the authenticity of the world described and does not make it more difficult to read (there is also an appendix with the translations for these terms).

This is one novel that I can highly recommend, without reservations. In fact, I will need to get my own copy of it as I can see myself rereading it lots of times. I hope I have given you the right impression, this novel is not fluffy, it´s much better in that it does not shy away from darker and more serious topics. The lighthearted moments are still there though, and Liebenberg made me laugh and cry many times.

A few of my favorite passages:

“It´s in his eyes most of all- they´re colourless and polite. After a while, I have to turn away- if I look at that portrait for too long, I can feel Great Grandfather´s ghostly eyes watching. (7)

“Cia has a sort of monkeyish look about her face, a cheekiness that cheats her out of her sweetness, and she has a smile like a Cheshire cat that slits her eyes, so that all up she looks like a wickedly smug little Chinese simian- but cute in a way against which I can´t compete.” (9)

“Oupa is supposed to be helping me with my homework, but he´ll be buggered if he´s going to play governess now on top of being nanny and I can chant the six times table to myself when I´m on the bog, so we sit and hear about the toiling instead.” (13)

“Shrouded in the forest, we are lifted above the grubbiness of chicken slaughters and peanut butter and jam, and are allowed to enter another world- one where things flit on gossamer wings and anything is a mere wish away.” (18)

“Adults say all sorts of pious and noble things about the wisdom of age and whatnot, but in truth, for old folks, it´s like their story has ended before they have, and all that´s left is the re-telling, (except they´re not heard or even seen by the ones whose time it is, instead they´re seen only by us, the ones whose time has not yet come), until the book finally closes on yesterday´s story. (133)

“The day has a sort of glow about the edges. Perfect. I feel it searing onto my brain the way something does when you know you´ll always remember it.” (168)

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