Permafrost by Eva Baltasar (tr. Julia Sanches)

blue cover with woman resting head on hand, lying against furry blanket

a nutshell: written by a Catalan poet, this debut novel chases the erratic thoughts of a gay suicidal narrator as she flits from one place (or person) to another

a line: “We’d met by chance, and if there’s one thing I believe in, it’s chance. Despite the Herculean efforts of new religions to deny it, chance continues to exist”

an image: almost too many to choose from! I was especially moved by how the narrator describes doubt (fanned by her parents) as the first chink in the permafrost, that is, the thick layers of defence mechanisms she built to survive

a thought: perhaps contrary to expectations, this book manages to be both fiercely funny and emotively frail – I found it a compulsive read

a fact: in her illuminating afterword, Sanches notes that Baltasar’s story began as a prompt in a therapy session and spiralled into a fictional work from there, which sheds light on Permafrost‘s ‘searching’ quality

want to read Permafrost? visit here

Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis

a nutshell: to me, this was an incredibly profound novel about love in various forms – romantic love, love between friends, love of place, familial love – and a fascinating insight into the Uruguyan dictatorship of the 20th century

a line: “the silence of dictatorship, the silence of the closet, as we call it now––all of that is layered and layered like blankets that muffle you until you cannot breathe”

an image: I was in tears at the final conversation between Flaca and her father, and even read it aloud hours later to my boyfriend; I won’t recall it here in case I ruin it for other readers, but I found his words deeply moving

a thought: I finished this book over three weeks ago but can’t bring myself to remove it from my bedside table – there were many lines that I’m still thinking about, including Malena’s heated remark that you do not owe your parents your life

a fact: the title comes from a word for singer in Spanish but, as de Robertis shares in this interview, there’s another word, cantante, which women under the dictatorship in the Uruguayan era used as code for lesbians – the author found a resonance in how it suggests a woman will claim her life, or voice, on her own terms

want to read Cantoras? visit here

Trans by Juliet Jacques

cover of Trans, featuring illustration of Juliet

a nutshell: interweaving the personal with the political, this nuanced & intimate memoir records Juliet’s navigation of her gender journey through her 20s (looping in the arts, football, the internet, & more)

a line: “what if we’re not trapped in the wrong body but trapped in the wrong society?”

an image: one of many beautiful moments is when Juliet describes a play’s parting message that the more somebody resembles what they’ve dreamed of being, the more authentic they are

a thought: I can’t imagine the weight of frustration that Juliet must have felt at the inordinate day-to-day life admin that came with her decision to live freely as a woman, e.g. the local supermarket’s demand that she supply a letter from the GP & two utility bills before they’d replace her loyalty card (which had £2.40 on it)

a fact: the national media, from The Guardian to The Sun, comes across extremely poorly in this book – whether it’s publishing the hateful bile of transphobic feminists or outing individuals in traumatic splashes, the extent to which they’ve let trans people down over the years is woeful

want to read Trans? visit here

Dogs and Others by Biljana Jovanović (tr. John K Cox)

a nutshell: written in 1980, this is a fragmentary & flashback-filled depiction of a troubled family’s life in socialist Belgrade through the eyes of young bohemian Lida

a line: “It was so imbecilic and without imagination, like when someone unexpectedly gives you a Maltese terrier”

an image: the accompanying notes to the book in fact contain the image that most stuck with me – on the novel as an acid bath, stripping away façades or patina, carrying excrutiating truths and power and loss

a thought: this translation went to press one year into the #MeToo movement, 38 years after Jovanović wrote the novel, and it’s stark how much sexual harassment and assault is contained within the novel; the fight-back has been a long time coming

a fact: this novel features the first detailed exploration of a sexual relationship between two women in Serbian literature

want to read Dogs and Others? visit here

Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang

a nutshell: this is a stunningly understated contemplation on grief, queerness & race, which quietly bruises as it nudges along its way

a line: “These interactions feel like a mix of coffee and booze, the warmth of recognition and the anxiety of direct attention. She is unsettled by the host of uncertainties that comes with being recognised as a trans woman by a room full of strangers”

an image: every page of wilson-yang’s writing holds some element of beauty; at one point, she pauses on the peaceful black sky in rural Canada – not the ‘unfinished’ night of the city, but stars spread throughout with ‘the appearance of longing’

a thought: for Mei, the main protagonist, all encounters are fraught with complication – one painful instance is how, after she’s assaulted, a passerby’s expression twists from pity to disgust as she looks more closely

a fact: this book won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Best Transgender Fiction

want to read Small Beauty? visit here

Smile as they Bow by Nu Nu Yi (tr. Alfred Birnbaum and Thi Thi Aye)

Smile as they Bow cover

a nutshell: amid the revelry of the Taungbyon Festival (a major traditional celebration of nats – spirits) we meet Daisy Bond, a celebrated queer natkadaw (spirit medium) consumed with angst about her increasingly strained relationship with her younger assistant

a line: “I speak, laugh, cry as a woman. I feel everything as a woman. That makes me a woman. I’m a woman inside.”

an image: born male but living as a woman, Daisy muses on how the meinmasha mark is on individuals from the moment they’re born – it may be hidden or masked for different reasons, but come the right time and season, it blossoms bright and bold

a thought: to Nu Nu Yi’s credit as a writer, I didn’t find myself siding with either Daisy or Min Min – both deserved to live more freely than their lives had so far allowed

a fact: due to beliefs that nat possession was a sham, the Taungbyon Festival was banned under King Mindon’s reign (1853-78) and remained so under the rule of Myanmar’s last king, King Thibaw (1878-85); British colonisers reinstated it to create a diversion for people, Nu Nu Yi says – “They didn’t reinstate Taungbyon for natkadaws to cheat people, they reinstated Taungbyon to cheat the country”

 

want to read Smile as they Bow? visit here

Crimson by Niviaq Korneliussen (tr. Anna Halager)

a nutshell: a punchy, fast-paced, almost-stream-of-consciousness novella charting the major realisations & life decisions of five queer characters in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk

a line“The island is swollen. The island is rotten. The island has taken my beloved from me.”

an image: the ongoing prison metaphor (at least, I think it’s a metaphor…) in Inuk’s chapter threw me somewhat but does vividly evoke the claustrophobia that has engulfed him so far in his life

a thought: I read this book within a few hours and found it a stressful read what with the endless binges & hangovers / childhood traumas / emotional crises – but it’s certainly a bold debut from Korneliussen

a fact: the author first wrote the book in Greenlandic (published as HOMO Sapienne) aged 24, before translating it herself into Danish and presumably then into English (?) – I liked how she gives a glossary at the back to explain various Greenlandic words left within the English translation, e.g. ‘inuugit’ meaning ‘live your life’

 

want to read Crimson? visit here

La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono (tr. Lawrence Schimel)

a nutshell: this slim novel sees teenage orphan Okomo confront the suffocating rules of Fang culture in rural Equatorial Guinea where, though she’s under pressure to find a husband, her realisation that she’s not into men leads her towards an altogether different community

a line“if a man who is with another man us called a man-woman, what are women called who do the same?”

an image: throughout the book, the forest grows into an increasingly beautiful place full of freedoms, hope & unity

a thought: ‘witchcraft’ is thrown about by the conservative elders as the reason for all manner of misfortunes when in fact the architects of these circumstances are often those in local positions of power – either Fang men or mitangan (missionaries)

a fact: Abosede George’s afterword contributes many insights into the record of past dissident sexualities relating to the discussion around queerness and Africanness (though – for anyone who does read the book – I did disagree with her point that the Indecency Club’s polygamy forms a straightforward contrast with the village’s normative polygamous marriages, since both involve envy & ruptures)

P.S. – this is the first novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman to be translated into English and is very much banned in Equatorial Guinea

 

want to read La Bastarda? visit here