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

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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”


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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