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Archive for the ‘Lesbian Literature’ Category

I discovered Stela Brinzeanu’sSet in Stone‘ through Marina Sofia from ‘Finding Time to Write’ . The story looked beautiful and so I was excited to read it.

It is the medieval ages. We are in Moldova. Elina is a young noblewoman. She lives with her father. Her mother has passed. One day she crosses paths with Mira. Mira is the potter’s daughter who is hoping to become a potter herself one day. Magic happens. But this is the medieval ages. A woman falling in love with another woman and they both getting together is impossible. Also, their social divide is impossible to bridge. What happens to them forms the rest of the story.

At its core, ‘Set in Stone’ is a beautiful love story. But it is also much more than that. It depicts the lives of women in the middle ages and how everything was hard for them, how women who were healers were branded as witches, how people lived together as a community and helped each other out, the battle between different religions, the old and the new, how freedom was elusive whether one was poor or rich and how no one was truly free. At one point Elina asks her father, “What’s the use of all this if I can’t be free?” To which her father replies, “No one is really free, my dear. I’m at the behest of the voivode and he is a vassal of the Ottoman sultan, and so it goes. Real freedom doesn’t exist, and if it did, I’m not even sure we’d want it.

I loved most of the characters in the book (except the bad ones). Most of the women characters were fascinating and inspiring because they defied the restrictions imposed on them and tried to break free and express themselves and live beautiful lives. Stela Brinzeanu’s prose is soft and beautiful and brings that period alive. The conversations between Elina and Mira were cool and stylish and were such a pleasure to read.

I loved ‘Set in Stone’. This is the first ever book that I’ve read where the story is set in Moldova. Yay!  I’m so happy about that! Stela Brinzeanu has written another book set in Moldova during contemporary times. I can’t wait to read that!

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“‘At the heart of any storm, whether it’s around or inside you, there’s a place of quiet like no other. When you find that place, you gain such strength that nobody could ever take that away from you.”

“She watches the snowflakes swarming outside, as if they are choosing where to settle. Who is she fooling? Of course it isn’t up to them where they end up. It’s the invisible wind that’s tossing them about, teasing them with the promise of free will.”

“Elina thinks how much easier it is to communicate with animals. They perceive the world in silence, and they’re never wrong. Words are useless tools if you’re digging for truth, she thinks. They lie, deceive and distort. Only in the absence of words can there be truth. That’s why people talk, because they have something to hide.”

“Home isn’t really someone’s hut or manor, she thinks, but the place where your loved one is waiting for you.”

Have you read ‘Set in Stone’? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Nancy Garden’sAnnie on My Mind‘ recently and decided to read it today.

Liza is in the final year of high school. She wants to study architecture when she goes to college. One day she is at the museum exploring around, when she hears someone singing. She stumbles into this girl whose name is Annie and they end up talking. Before long they become friends and then magic happens. If that is all there is to it, then there is not much, isn’t it? Two people meet and fall in love and live happily everafter – what is the fun in that? Where is the drama? Well, this is the late ’70s or the early ’80s. If two young women fall in love and people discover that, all hell will break loose. And it does. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

‘Annie on My Mind’ was published in 1982, exactly forty years back. It was probably one of the first lesbian stories told in YA fiction. It was much ahead of its time. In that era, if a person comes out, they might get expelled from high school. They’ll definitely lose their jobs, and it will be impossible to get another one. Parents, who might be liberal in principle, will definitely have a problem if their own child comes out as gay, and will try to change their child, give them hell, or hide that fact from others. Nancy Garden captures all this beautifully in her book. I was worried about how the story was going to end, and what might happen to the main characters – things didn’t look good, it was a conservative time, after all. I’m not going to tell you what happened. You have to read the book and find out.

One of my favourite coming out stories is this one. One of my friends who was straight when she was in high school, came out gay when she graduated from college. At some point she wanted to tell her dad about it. She thought a lot about it and she was worried how he’ll react to it. But after hesitating for a while, one day she invited her dad for lunch, telling him that she wanted to talk to him about something important. While having lunch, after the initial chitchat, her dad asked her what it was that she wanted to discuss and after hesitating a bit, she told him that she was gay. Her dad said, “Oh that! I already knew that, of course! It is so cool! You are so cool! So how is your day? What did you do today morning?” And just like that, all the tension she had felt disappeared. Her dad, with just those simple gestures and words, told her that he loved her unconditionally. When my friend told us this story, we screamed and said, “Your dad is so cool! We want to meet him!” 

I’m sharing some of my favourite passages from the book below.

“I’m not sure how to describe Annie’s voice, or if anyone really could, except maybe a music critic. It’s a low soprano—mezzo-soprano is its technical name—and it’s a little husky—not gravelly husky, but rich—and, according to my mother, it’s one hundred percent on pitch all the time. It’s also almost perfectly in control; when Annie wants to fill a room with her voice, she can, but she can also make it as soft as a whisper, a whisper you can always hear.”

“There’s a Greek legend—no, it’s in something Plato wrote—about how true lovers are really two halves of the same person. It says that people wander around searching for their other half, and when they find him or her, they are finally whole and perfect. The thing that gets me is that the story says that originally all people were really pairs of people, joined back to back, and that some of the pairs were man and man, some woman and woman, and others man and woman. What happened was that all of these double people went to war with the gods, and the gods, to punish them, split them all in two. That’s why some lovers are heterosexual and some are homosexual, female and female, or male and male.”

“I went downstairs to Dad’s encyclopedia and looked up HOMOSEXUALITY, but that didn’t tell me much about any of the things I felt. What struck me most, though, was that, in that whole long article, the word “love” wasn’t used even once. That made me mad; it was as if whoever wrote the article didn’t know that gay people actually love each other. The encyclopedia writers ought to talk to me, I thought as I went back to bed; I could tell them something about love.”

I loved ‘Annie on My Mind’. It is a beautiful book. Have you read ‘Annie on My Mind’? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘All About Sarah’ by Pauline Delabroy-Allard recently and was finally able to read it today.

The narrator of the story is a single mom who has a young daughter. She and her husband divorced sometime back. One day she goes to a party and bumps into a woman called Sarah. Sarah is loud, talkative, unconventional, doesn’t care what people think. Our narrator is drawn towards Sarah and is deeply attracted towards her. And Sarah responds to that. And as they say, it is the end of life as they know it. I won’t tell you anything else about the story here. I’ll let you read the book and discover its pleasures.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part describes the love story between the narrator and Sarah. It has short chapters and it is mostly a happy story. The second part is a bit sad, is a bit dark. It has chapters which are a little longer. I liked both the parts, but I loved the first part more. The attraction, the seduction, the love, the fights, the making up were so beautifully described there. Though I loved the first part more, one of my favourite scenes came in the second part in which a minor character appeared and said some beautiful things. My favourite passage from that scene goes like this –

“Isabella insists on taking me to see the castle. When we stop briefly at a café, we talk about love and the agonies you have to experience in order to appreciate the joys. She doesn’t ask any questions when I start to cry silently. She just says – gently, in her irresistible accent – you have to get through the nights and be fulfilled during the day.”

Pauline Delabroy-Allard’s prose is a pleasure to read and there are many beautiful passages in the book. I’ve shared some of my favourites below. As Sarah is a violinist who performs in classical music concerts, the whole book has a musical backdrop and Beethoven and Schubert and Vivaldi and others make guest appearances in the book which adds to the charm of the book.

I loved ‘All About Sarah‘. It is one of my favourite lesbian love stories. Pauline Delabroy-Allard is a beautiful, new find for me and I’m looking forward to reading more books by her.

I’m sharing below a couple of my favourite passages. The second one has three parts from three different places in the book, which I’ve stitched together, because I felt that they read beautifully together.

“Passion. From the Latin patior, to experience, endure, suffer. Feminine noun. With the notion of protracted or successive suffering: the action of suffering. With the notion of excess, exaggeration, intensity: love as an irresistible and violent inclination towards a single object, sometimes descending into obsession, entailing a loss of moral compass and of critical faculties, and liable to compromise mental stability. In Scholasticism, what is experienced by an individual, the thing with which he or she is associated or to which he or she is subjugated.”

“It’s January but yet again the miracle happens. Yet again winter admits defeat, drags its heels a little longer and tries one final flourish, but it’s too late, it’s over, the spring has won…It’s a spring like any other, a spring to depress the best of us…It’s a spring like any other, with impromptu showers, the smell of wet tarmac, a sort of lightness in the air, a breath of happiness that sings softly about the fragility of it all.”

Have you read ‘All About Sarah‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Nina Bouraoui recently and I got this book of hers, ‘All Men Want to Know‘.

All Men Want to Know‘ is classified as fiction and autofiction, but it looked like a memoir and so I read it like a memoir. Nina’s parents are from different countries – her mom is French, her dad is Algerian. So her life is complicated. Both her parents love her and her sister, but because their grandparents are from totally different cultures, her relationship to her grandparents from the two sides is very different – it is beautiful, affectionate, but also very different. Nina lives the first fourteen years of her life in Algeria, but after that her family moves to France as the political situation in Algeria becomes unstable. With all this going on, to add to the complexity, Nina discovers that she is gay. The parts of the book in which she talks about this – how she hides her sexual orientation from her family and other people in her life, how she feels guilty about it, how she tries to accept her true natural self, how she tries to find gay friends with whom she could hang out, how she goes on a quest to find love – these are some of the most beautiful and moving parts of the book. Nina Bouraoui’s prose is beautiful, lyrical but also deceptively simple, which makes it powerful and moving.

All Men Want to Know‘ is a beautiful, moving book about being part of a multi-ethnic family and the challenges and the pleasures and joy which come out of that, about what it means to belong (or to not belong) to two countries which are at loggerheads with each other. It is also about embracing one’s true nature and celebrating it, and it is a beautiful love letter to being gay and falling in love. It is early days yet, but I think this is one of my favourite books of the year. I can’t wait to read more books by Nina Bouraoui.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“At the Kat, I experience a form of social unease, a class anxiety that fills me with shame. I’m mixing with women outside my social circle, factory workers, former prisoners, prostitutes. We are thrown together by fate, driven together by the one thing we share : our sexual orientation. I’m a victim of my own homophobia. I despise myself for sneering at the embracing couples on the benches, the girls locked in one another’s arms on the dance floor, the courageous couples in the street. I resent them for flaunting themselves in this way. I could be compromised if I were seen with them. I envy their freedom. I stay locked into my fear. When someone offers me a lift out of concern for my safety, I refuse; they might remember my address, come to my door the next day, I could be outed to my fellow students at the university who know nothing of my ‘tendencies’, my ‘invert’ nature; I use these outmoded expressions to taunt myself and because the Kat exists outside of time, cut off from the 1980s I’m living through. I’d rather walk home, be followed; it’s the price I pay for calling into existence what I call my ‘nature’. I’m not breaking any laws but I’m flirting with decadence; I must be, I spend so much time at the Kat.”

“There is such a thing as a gay childhood. My childhood. No excuses are needed. There’s no explanation. It simply is. There is a history to homosexuality, a story with roots and a territory of its own. Being gay isn’t a question of choice or preference, it simply is, just as blood has a type, skin has its colour, the body its dimensions, hair its texture. I see it as organic. The gay child is not lacking, she is different, outside of the norm, inside a normality of her own; not until later will she come to understand that her normality marks her out from others, condemns her to secrecy and shame.”

“‘We’ll never know what the ingredients of love are, how people are put together,’ my mother says when I ask her what happiness means to her. ‘The truth is that you can never really know another person, there are always surprises, both good and bad: reality sets in, stronger than the relationship itself, stronger than desire, the spell of being in love wears off. You have to be able to accept it: life isn’t a dream, we aren’t here on this earth for a life of constant pleasure; it’s the difficult times that matter, much more than the lighter moments.’”

“My grandmother loves my mother in her own way, like a child one no longer understands and keeps at arm’s length…My grandmother has never accepted my father…On the rare occasions she does come and visit she feels out of place, as a woman, a Frenchwoman…She fears for us, her two granddaughters, she’s sure our growth is affected by the heat, by our diet. I have difficulty drawing up a family tree, a ‘tree of love’ as some call it. The branches of my tree don’t flower, or if they do, the blossoms appear on the wrong branches, as if they’ve migrated, bloomed from the soil or on a branch not meant to bear flowers. This is how I feel about my French family, it doesn’t work, it never will; it makes me uncomfortable, as if I’m outside my real self, as if I’ve failed to love my whole self. I feel the same with my Algerian family. I hardly know them. They live four hundred kilometres from Algiers, you have to drive along the coast road towards Petite Kabylia, in the east. My Algerian grandmother doesn’t speak French, I don’t speak Arabic, our only link is her tenderness, her hands in mine, in my hair, on my shoulders, her kisses on my forehead, her smiles; but this gentleness is beyond me, I don’t know what it means, I don’t know if it’s an expression of love or a way of apologizing for being so unlike us, for not wanting to be like us. We are so very different.”

“Ely is of the opinion that men and women weren’t made to be together, they’re too different. She doesn’t go along with the idea of complementarity. When you’re with someone that different, you end up losing your essence, your sense of self, you waste all your energy trying to be more like the other person, but it’s futile, a battle you’ll never win. With another woman, there’s no threat of being overpowered, we’re evenly matched and it stays that way; we’re equals physically, and even if one of us is stronger mentally, there’s none of that business of one person taking control.”

“My mother says it’s impossible to say where you come from without getting something wrong. Searching for your origins is like following a winding path that branches off into more winding paths, even a family tree won’t reveal the truth: families bury their secrets, it’s the one thing they all have in common, they keep them hidden and if any of those secrets do come to light, they deny them. Families are forbidden chambers of forbidden memories, sealed units that leave a trail of destruction; when I ask my mother what kind of destruction, she answers without thinking and says, just as her mother does: ‘I can’t tell you.’ People’s lives appear to me as an unending series of unanswered questions, a web of doubts, shadows, fears and imaginings; I play out the story of our relatives the Aschpiels in my head: Central Europe, travelling, hiding, camps perhaps. Everything is hidden, kept in silence, held in check not by shame but by fear. Families are fertile territory for fear, and I’m scared. I know nothing about my past, my ancestors; I carry their sorrows, their misdeeds perhaps, within me, and because I search where others do not look, because I see in my mother what others have not seen, I will pass those sorrows and misdeeds on to others; I will write, I will piece together the story with my words, I will create scenes that are invented, reported, true, untrue, I will bring the tale to life and stop it from haunting me.”

Have you read ‘All Men Want to Know‘? What do you think about it?

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