June was Pride Month, but you don’t need a special occasion to love these dozen LGBTQ+ books—some hot off the press, others old favourites
THE WORLD THAT BELONGS TO US (2020) edited by Aditi Angiras and Akhil Katyal (HarperCollins India) Published last month, this anthology of queer voices from South Asia is a much needed addition to the history of poetry from the subcontinent. From the Indian-American Kazim Ali to the Indian gay writer Hoshang Merchant, a wide array of sensibilities populates these pages. Situated in different parts of the world, the poets hold up a mirror to their personal realities while exploring the social, cultural and ethical questions that inform their work.
GAY BOMBAY (new edition, 2020) by Parmesh Shahani (Sage) An ethnography of queer Mumbai of the 1990s, this 2008 book is out in a special anniversary edition. Combining memoir with astute analyses, this account of the LGBTQ+ movement now includes an interview with the author as well as reflections on the work’s importance by academics.
LESS (2017) by Andrew Sean Greer (Hachette) Two years ago, Greer created a stir by winning the Pulitzer Prize for this novel. For not only does Less tell the story of a gay writer facing the horrors of impending old age, it is also a laugh-out-loud comedy. If this doesn’t whet your appetite, add to the mix a caustically funny take on the lit-fest circuit and, indeed, on the entire publishing industry itself. There’s not a boring sentence in this book, we can guarantee that.
MEMORY OF LIGHT (2020) by Ruth Vanita (Penguin Random House India) A same-sex romance between two courtesans, set in a kotha in 18th century Lucknow, may sound like the plot of a kitschy Bollywood flick. But Vanita breathes sophistication and poetry into the body of this slim historical novel, while leaving on the pages the imprint of her vast learning as a scholar of South Asian studies. Published recently, this is a treat, shimmering with desire one moment, dissolving into pathos the next.
MOHANA SWAMY (2016) by Vasudhendra (HarperCollins India) Translated by Rashmi Terdal, this collection of stories by the popular Kannada writer will steal your heart with its unaffected, and often confessional, charm. Like the author, the eponymous protagonist of these tales has grown up in a village, closeted and fearful of expressing his sexual identity until he comes to work in a big city. But even his flight from the fetters of his family, and eventual discovery of love, don’t end in happily ever after.
SEX AND THE SUPREME COURT (2020) by Saurabh Kirpal (Hachette) Edited by Kirpal, this collection of writings by legal experts, journalists and activists, among others, is scheduled to appear soon. The country’s apex court has played a key role in upholding the rights of sexual minorities and women of late. From the reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to the abolition of triple talaq, the writers cover major judgements and their impact on India’s society.
HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME (2017) by Adam Silvera (Simon & Schuster India) Silvera ventures into terrain that few writers do, or have the bandwidth to navigate: teenage gay romance. To top it all, his second novel also deals with death, despair and depression. Griffin, the narrator, has lost his first love (and ex-boyfriend), Theo, in a drowning accident—and the depth of his loss is shared only by Jackson, Theo’s bereaved lover. Silvera spins magic out of this awkward and difficult situation.
FORSAKEN—AN AIDS MEMOIR (2015) by Alexandre Bergamini (Yoda Press) Translated by Renuka George, the French writer’s harrowing account of confronting his father, grappling with his brother’s suicide, coming out as gay, and becoming infected with HIV/AIDS bears testimony to the continuing struggles of many around the world. While the stigma of the disease is far less pronounced now, accessing healthcare and raising public awareness remain grave challenges. Part personal history and part advocacy, this is essential reading for a fuller understanding of the struggles of LGBTQ+ people.
KARI (2008) by Amruta Patil (HarperCollins India) It’s impossible to leave out India’s first LGBTQ+ graphic novel from a list of books about alternative sexuality. Published more than a decade ago, Kari remains iconic in its bold exploration of lesbianism, its dark humour and strikingly moving artwork. Jilted by her lover Ruth, Kari roams around the city of Mumbai, befriending cats and humans, stumbling on hard truths about herself and human nature. The appeal of the story is universal but it especially acts as a balm for the broken-hearted.
HEARTSTOPPER (2019-20) series by Alice Oseman (Hodder) A queer graphic novel for young readers sounds tricky but Oseman meets the challenge robustly. In the Heartstopper series, three of which are out so far, she tells the story of two school friends, Charlie and Nick, who grow fond of each other against all odds. But then love happens where you least expect it. With stories full of longing and illustrations that dazzle, the books live up to the tag line “Boy meets boy."
TIN MAN (2017) by Sarah Winman (Hachette) The story begins with a painting of sunflowers won in the raffles. By the time it ends, your heart is filled with soft melancholy. A friendship turns into romantic love, which dims into polite affection, but is recovered after years. Actor and author Sarah Winman’s third novel locks Ellis and Michael, boyhood friends, into an emotional battle. The intensity of their bond does not diminish with time but it is complicated by the arrival of Annie. The suspense and drama in the plot is kept alive till the arc reaches a full circle.
CHOCOLATE, AND OTHER WRITINGS ON MALE-MALE DESIRE (2006) by Pandey Bechan Sharma “Ugra" (Oxford University Press) In 1927, when India was in the thick of the nationalist movement, Hindi writer Pandey Bechan Sharma, best known by his pen-name Ugra (meaning extreme), created an uproar in the literary sphere. His collection of stories titled Chocolate, unabashedly exploring male homosexuality, ignited a debate over the propriety of such writing. Ruth Vanita renders these controversial stories into English, with an introduction and historical paraphernalia.