Posts Tagged ‘LGBT Literature’

I loved John Cox’s translation of Biljana Jovanović’s book, especially his introductory essay on Yugoslavian / Serbian literature and on Jovanović’s work. So I did some research on which other books he has translated and that is how I discovered Ajla Terzić’sThis Could Have Been a Simple Story’. Ajla Terzić is a Bosnian writer and this book was originally published in Bosnian.

Esma works in an organization which helps people. She is single. She doesn’t have any near family – her dad moved away when she was young, and her mom has passed. She has an aunt and uncle and cousins and they invite her home during festival times. Once her office sends her to Vienna for a seminar. She meets a woman in the train compartment and sparks fly. But later the woman disappears. After a couple of days, this woman, called Roza, calls up Esma and they meet again. The sparks become a fire. And that is the end of life, as Esma knows it. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

This Could Have Been a Simple Story‘ is a beautiful lesbian love story. The first meeting, the attraction, the love, and the relationship between Esma and Roza is beautifully depicted. The kind of resistance that these two have to put up, and the battles they have to fight, especially when facing opposition from their friends, family members and loved ones, has been portrayed in the story in a nuanced way. In the last chapter of the book, Esma is at the edge of the precipice (a metaphorical precipice, of course), and we can feel the author Ajla Terzić literally pause her pen over paper, and contemplate on what to do next, and we readers realize that the fate of our heroine Esma, and our own happiness lies in the author’s hands, and we wait with bated breath to find out what happens next. Does Esma take the risk and jump off the precipice and take the plunge? Or does she step back to the safety of her previous life before all this happened? You have to read the story to find out.

It was nice to discover a new Bosnian author in Ajla Terzić. There is a beautiful introduction at the beginning of the story, in which the translator John Cox introduces us to Bosnian literature and Ajla Terzić’s work. It is vintage John Cox. John Cox is odd among translators, because he is a Balkan historian. So his knowledge of Balkan and Bosnian history, culture, literature and language is deep and that is clearly visible in the introductory essay and in the footnotes throughout the book.

John Cox says this in his introduction – “She (Ajla Terzić) herself sees no need to stress this, but you are about to read the first novel by a Bosnian woman that has appeared in English translation.” If this is true, then this book breaks new ground and this translation is pioneering. And the fact that the first book by a Bosnian woman to be translated into English is a lesbian love story – that makes it even better.

One of the central things in the book is the way music is embedded throughout the story. This would be easily perceptible to a Bosnian reader, but to an outsider like myself, it would be impossible to see. For this reason, the introduction is invaluable. The main character Esma’s name, the title of the book, and the titles of all the chapters are taken from the songs of the famous Yugoslav band Bijelo Dugme, and John Cox explains the connection between the band and the author and the book. One of my favourite musical discoveries from the book was a Bosnian music form called Sevdalinka, which expresses unrequited longing through music. I went and listened to a recording of it. It was beautiful, haunting, heartbreaking. (Do search for ‘U Stambolu na Bosforu’ by Daphne Kritharas, in YouTube, if you’d like to listen.)

I enjoyed reading ‘This Could Have Been a Simple Story‘. I can’t wait to read more books by Ajla Terzić.

Have you read ‘This Could Have Been a Simple Story’? What do you think about it?

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I have long wanted to read a Jacqueline Woodson book and I finally got around to reading her latest ‘Red at the Bone‘. I read this for ‘Black History Month’ alongwith ‘WOC Reads‘ and ‘The Bookdog Says‘. We had such a fascinating discussion on it.

Melody is a teenager who is celebrating her sixteenth birthday. When she walks into the party, we see her parents, we see her grandparents, but things aren’t what they seem. And soon we know why.

At this point, I’m in a dilemma. Should I summarize the plot and analyze it and reveal its secrets? Or should I give some vague clues to it which will entice the reader to go and pick the book and read it herself? After a lot of thought, I decided on the second one. So here goes.

Red at the Bone‘ is a story told from different perspectives. Each chapter has a different narrator or point of view and we see the story unfold through different eyes. Along the way, the story explores different themes, love, family, race, exploring one’s sexual identity. As the story moves along we get deep into the twentieth century, into history, into dark deeds and heartbreaking happenings, we meet people rising from the ashes and people trying their best but not able to rise. It is a haunting story, sometimes beautiful, sometimes moving, sometimes heartbreaking. There is so much packed in the story, that sometimes it is unbelievable, how such a slim book can carry so many heavy themes. It doesn’t feel that all these complex themes are forced into the story like we might do in the last minute into our overstuffed travel suitcase, but it feels like they are a natural part of the story.

We meet a fascinating cast of characters along the way, Melody and her best friend Malcolm, Iris and Aubrey and Jam, Sabe and Po’Boy and CathyMarie. We also meet Baby Benjamin who is beautiful and who is too good for this world. On the way, Jacqueline Woodson sprinkles literary stars in our way – Paul Laurence Dunbar and bell hooks and Audre Lorde and August Wilson.

I loved ‘Red at the Bone‘. It is a beautiful coming-of-age story, a beautiful love story, a moving exploration of identity. And many other things. I can’t wait to read more books by Jacqueline Woodson.

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

“Prettiest baby you’d ever want to see. For the few weeks he was with us, he’d open his eyes and look right at you – like an old soul. Like it was somebody from the past trying to tell you something.”

“Guess that’s where the tears come from, knowing that there’s so much in this great big world that you don’t have a single ounce of control over. Guess the sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll have one less heartbreak in your life. Oh Lord. Some evenings I don’t know where the old pains end and the new ones begin. Feels like the older you get the more they run into one long, deep aching.”

“That’s why I don’t buy it when people say children don’t know. That they’re too young to understand. If they can walk and talk, they can understand. You look at how much growing a baby does in the first few years of its life – crawling, walking, talking, laughing. The brain just changing and changing. You can’t tell me all of it’s not becoming a part of their blood. Their memory.”

Have you read ‘Red at the Bone‘? What do you think about it?

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