The Bride of Amman

📍Jordan 🇯🇴

This debut novel by the Jordanian writer, Fadi Zaghmout, originally written in Arabic (Aroos Amman), later translated into English by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, caused quite a stir when it was released. Understandably so, considering the bold and controversial issues it explores, which are often deemed taboo and blasphemous in the traditional Jordanian society. The story is told through five characters of Leila, Salma, Rana, Hayat and Ali; all living in the capital city, Amman. Through these stories, the author tackles the persistent and pertinent issues of patriarchy, misogyny, chauvinism, incest, rape, sexual abuse, homophobia, widely prevalent in the conservative Arab community. An Arab woman’s worth is equated with her ability to get married at the right age, be a dazzling bride and bear children, especially sons. Her career and education are just an ornament. Zaghmout repeatedly asserts how women have no authority or agency over their own lives and bodies, and their choices are subject to male dominance and approval. Particularly disturbing story is that of Hayat, who is raped and sexually abused by her own father; later chooses promiscuity with multiple married men to escape this horrid truth.

Zaghmout’s narrative is a poignant reflection of contemporary Amman, however, I felt, that at many instances, he has tried to infantilise the grave problems. Hayat, as a rape survivor, is shown to forgive her father for his unpardonable crime. Her choice of being promiscuous seems to be very flippant and it seems as the only way a woman can get over her sexual abuse past. Ali, a closeted Iraqi gay man, gets married to Leila, has a child, and continues to have gay sexual encounters on the sly. Leila later discovers his homosexuality and upon confrontation, chooses to accept her life as his wife, devoid of sex, delves steadfast into her career and turns a blind eye to his indiscretions. In the book, the men are forever exonerated for their crimes and wrongdoings, by the women. There’s always some “logical” reasoning to the way the men have behaved. This almost invisible, subtextual chauvinism can’t be ignored. Also, other than Salma’s story, the others seem to have the proverbial happy ending. This smacks of immature writing.

Majority of Indian gay men remain closeted and continue to have heterosexual marriages and children under the pretext of parental pressure and culture. They also have multiple gay liaisons after marriage with gay abandon (no pun intended) and literally no remorse. Are the Indian women too, like Leila, choosing to not see the obvious because of the pressure to stay married and the stigma of divorce? Or are they truly oblivious?

Though the book is about Ammani women, one can’t miss the fact, how close this hits home. Indian women, are still governed by the cis men around them, and it remains an ongoing struggle for them to establish their equality and agency.

~ JUST A GAY MAN. 🥺

Crimson by Niviaq Korneliussen

📍Greenland 🇬🇱

First published in Greenlandic in 2014 as Homo Sapienne, the book was then translated by the author into Danish, a version that went on to receive Nordic acclaim, being nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize. In 2018, the UK translation, Crimson (released as Last Night in Nuuk in the US in 2019) was published, converted from Danish by Anna Halager. Events unfold at a startling pace in this book, told through the lives and stories of its five protagonists. Fia, has no love for her longtime boyfriend, and is now repulsed by his touch and presence. She breaks up with him, only to fall head over heels for Sara. Inuk, Fia’s brother, is a closeted gay guy and is in a secret relationship with a prominent personality from Nuuk. Arnaq, Inuk’s best friend and who is temporarily hosting Fia at her apartment, has unresolved childhood traumas which has lead her to alcoholism and a self destructive “party” lifestyle. She is smitten with Ivik. Ivik, who’s story is the most heartwarming and queer affirming, is struggling with the label of being a lesbian and sexual intimacy with girlfriend Sara; later realises his gender dysphoria. Sara, who actually makes Ivik realise the above, is grappling with loss of the relationship, the birth of her niece, and her simmering attraction for Fia.

The book is an exploration of various nuances of gender and sexuality. The author, a queer woman and native Greenlander herself, asserts that queerness cannot be explained by a stringent and linear definition. Queer individuals define it for themselves. Through it’s myriad characters, Niviaq, makes space for an unbridled queer narrative that’s messy, flawed, imperfect, inconsistent and even inconsequential at times. Their internal dialogues and personal struggles, conveyed effortlessly by the author, is reminiscent of every queer person’s journey, irrespective of their country of origin. The book also gives us a glimpse into Greenland (a former Danish colony which became self governing in 2009 after a referendum), it’s culture and life in its capital city, Nuuk. I feel, the original in Greenlandic, was way ahead of its time, since queer discourses and identities have become and are becoming mainstream only since the last couple of years. Bravo, Niviaq!

~ JUST A GAY BOY. 🥹

Jamie’s Story

Jamie’s story is about Jamie Taylor. She is a lesbian woman, a nightclub owner, living in Cardiff. The book traces her story from adolescence to late twenties. Growing up in an extremely dysfunctional family, to an abusive and homophobic father; Jamie is forever looking to escape. Her home is never the safe place because it’s filled with fear and hate. Her father, an out of work veteran, is an alcoholic, wife beater and a bully. Even in her school, Jamie becomes a victim of bullying and homophobia. During these trying times, she develops a romantic relationship with another girl, Heather. However, misunderstandings, deceit and a series of unfortunate events make them go their separate ways.

Now when Jamie is an adult, her life is still chaos. It comprises of hookups, late nights, binge drinking. She remains emotionally scattered and unavailable to her own self. She intentionally tries to keep romance and love at bay. But a chance encounter with Heather, after so many years, reignites the forgotten passion. This leads her to question the self sabotaging behaviour and makes her receptive and accepting of new, beautiful and fulfilling possibilities.

The book is a brilliant take on the life of a queer, troubled woman who not just manages to survive but thrive. The narrative is fast paced; a page turner in fact! The climax has elements of mystery and suspense to it. The book addresses the realities of domestic violence and bullying in gory details; which can be triggering for some. However, the delicate and nuanced portrayal of the complicated relationships of Jamie with Heather and Sarah, is queer affirming and sensitive.

Despite the grim beginning, the end is uplifting and inspiring. We Lgbtqia+ people need such stories that celebrate our authenticity, spirit, resilience and humanity. We need stories where the end is filled with happiness.

Thank you Kim Harry for choosing me to read your book. Astounding debut!

~ JUST A GAY BOY. 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️