LORD OF THE SENSES (STORIES) BY: VIKRAM KOLMANNSKOG |BOOK REVIEW

Lord of the Senses (Stories)
By: Vikram Kolmannskog
Genre/Themes:LGBTQ/Gay, Fiction, Drama, Short Stories, Religion, Multi-Culture, Anti-Classism (18+)
Publisher: TeamAngelica
Release Date:  September 6, 2019

TeamAngelica | Amazon | AmazonUK

Synopsis:  A groundbreaking collection of frank, provocative short stories from gay Indian-Norwegian Vikram Kolmannskog, published to coincide with the anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in India.

From the forest-fringed suburbs of Oslo to the bustling heart of Bombay; from the timeless banks of the Ganges to the never-closing nightclubs of Berlin, Lord of the Senses captures a headily contemporary sense of what it is to be queer, cosmopolitan, spiritual and sexual.

My Thoughts

~~With a combination of an extended month of unanticipated work, and several hiccups at the beginning of the school year for my cousin—this post is well overdue.~~

In terms of context and themes, Lord of the Senses does not hold any punches. The stories are straightforward, in your face, honest, revealing, open and unapologetic with a lot of the erotic material the stories cover. That’s not to say that the book needs to be apologetic or reined in. Moreover, since the stories build on this sense of caution, due to shameful (and dangerous) social judgment, the secretive means of being affectionate with their partners and the openness of these stories seem to counteract those barriers.

Trying to condense all of the themes and genres we can pick up in this book was a challenge as I did not want to spiral down any mythological or fantasy rabbit-holes, but Shredded Dates and Raven Leela were two of the main contenders for my notes on that.

And I love the simplistic bittersweetness we get from the shorts Raja, Nanima and Roger Toilet, Growing Up Queer, The Sunset Point, and The Sacred Heart. Moments and pieces from each of those just seemed to linger with me the longest as I moved on to the next story.

Lord of the Senses should not be viewed as a book entirely made up of short stories that have physically erotic scenes—even though it does—but rather, a collection of stories intent on invoking a connection of each character to the reader. Hence, another aspect I liked in this book was the different levels of (sometimes anonymous) intimacy; emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

The writer takes us on these brief journeys with each character/tale conveying these strong, open, and liberatingly potent perspectives. Some of which came directly from the deeply obscured minds of the characters, that as an outsider, I felt like I had been intruding on their private thoughts.

While organizing my thoughts to mention how the micro-detailed descriptions interlaced with the intricate sensory markers, and scenery specifics of these stories help to transport your mind to some of these places—I ended up reading this great interview with Vikram.

He brings up points on how some of the pieces in Lord of the Senses have developed from drafts over the years and through the course of the movement for equal rights for the LGBTQ community in India. In the interview, Vikram also speaks about his desire to not only have his stories tether connections to the LGBTQ community within India. But also, to straight individuals outside of the community with ties to India as a means of highlighting, as I understood it, just how similar we all are at our core.

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Yeled Tov by: Daniel M. Jaffe | Book Review

 

Yeled Tov by: Daniel M. Jaffe

Genre:YA, Coming of age, mental illness, LGBT, Religion

Rating:4 stars

Release: April 18, 2018

Publisher: Lethe Press

Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis: As he’s about to turn 16 in the mid-1970’s, Jake Stein notices a prohibition in Leviticus that never caught his eye before:  “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.”  This discovery distresses Jake, an observant Jewish teen, because he’s recently been feeling increased attraction to other teen boys and men. He’s even been engaging in sexual exploration with his best friend.  In an attempt to distract himself, Jake joins his high school’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank, but falls in love with the romantic male lead, obsessively fantasizing about him.  Jake feels lonelier than ever.

The next year, while a freshman at Princeton University, Jake falls for his handsome roommate, is beset by serious temptations, and engages in a traumatic sexual encounter with a stranger.  Seeking help from God, Jake tries to alter his desires, even dates a young Jewish woman in the hopes that she can change him, but to no avail.   Jake concludes that God could never love an abomination like him, so he attempts to prove his faith by ending his own life.

After he’s saved by his roommate, Jake receives unexpected support from doctors, family, and friends, some of whom have been suspecting his secret.  With their help, Jake explores a different way of thinking about the rules of Torah and himself, and begins to consider that he might actually be a yeled tov, a good Jewish boy, just the way he is.

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The Fox Hunt by: Mohammed Al Samawi | Book Review

The Fox Hunt
By: Mohammed Al Samawi
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir, Religion, War,  Politics, Non-Western
Rating: 4.5 stars
Release Date: April 10, 2018
Publisher: William Marrow
Synopsis:

A young man’s moving story of war, friendship, and hope in which he recounts his harrowing escape from a brutal civil war in Yemen with the help of a daring plan engineered on social media by a small group of interfaith activists in the West.

Born in the Old City of Sana’a, Yemen, to a pair of middle-class doctors, Mohammed Al Samawi was a devout Muslim raised to think of Christians and Jews as his enemy. But when Mohammed was twenty-three, he secretly received a copy of the Bible, and what he read cast doubt on everything he’d previously believed. After connecting with Jews and Christians on social media, and at various international interfaith conferences, Mohammed became an activist, making it his mission to promote dialogue and cooperation in Yemen.

Then came the death threats: first on Facebook, then through terrifying anonymous phone calls. To protect himself and his family, Mohammed fled to the southern port city of Aden. He had no way of knowing that Aden was about to become the heart of a north-south civil war, and the battleground for a well-funded proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. As gunfire and grenades exploded throughout the city, Mohammed hid in the bathroom of his apartment and desperately appealed to his contacts on Facebook.

Miraculously, a handful of people he barely knew responded. Over thirteen days, four ordinary young people with zero experience in diplomacy or military exfiltration worked across six technology platforms and ten time zones to save this innocent young man trapped between deadly forces— rebel fighters from the north and Al Qaeda operatives from the south.

The story of an improbable escape as riveting as the best page-turning thrillers, The Fox Hunt reminds us that goodness and decency can triumph in the darkest circumstances.

 

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Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever: Heaven Gave it To Me by: Nnanna Ikpo | Review (+Author Interview)

Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever: Heaven Gave it To Me
By: Nnanna Ikpo
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, LGBT, Human Rights, Cultural
Rating: 4.5 stars
Release Date: April 20,2017
Publisher: Team Angelica
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis:

Olawale and Oluwole are dreadlocked Yoruba lawyers, minority human rights activists fighting for a better Nigeria. Bisexual and closeted, Olawale has spent his adult life protecting and defending his charismatic, more evidently homosexual twin; but when the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act becomes law, they, their family, and the women who love them are caught in a savage spotlight that threatens to wreck all their lives. In the midst of this Wole and Wale must deal with an estranged convict father whose unexpected reappearance brings dark and troubling family secrets to light.

Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever celebrates the enduring power of love, desire, faith, patriotism and human rights struggle in the face of political oppression and religious prejudice in Nigeria today. It extends the literary conversation begun by Jude Dibia and continued by Chinelo Okparanta.

 

Book Review:

This book was incredible. Although largely aimed at an African audience, I recommend this book for the LGBTQI+ community; its supporters, human rights activists, and readers who enjoy moving, compelling, and resonating narratives that leave inspired conversation. The content in this book covers strong political, social, cultural, and religious oppression and life-threatening situations that contradict the early to late 2000s following the pass of the SSMPA (Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act) in 2014 time frame that the book covers.

It is impossible to fathom some of the information the author reveals about the treatment of members, supporters and suspected LGBT individuals in Nigeria, but the accounts are real. Yet, so intricately woven in between these scenes are Wole and Wale, two queer brothers who actively use their skills and connections to push a wave of hope and peace to the otherwise vastly secretive gay community that is forced even further into hiding following SSMPA.

I have mentioned before how first person narration was not always my favorite to read, but with some of the books I have read recently, I am beginning to believe that it is not exactly true. Just with the prologue discussing the attack on a gay club in Nigeria and the criminalization of the victims, the reader is given a small glimpse of how regressive, from a Western point of view; a majority of the country is still today.

With that said, it is important to note how well the author delivers not only the political and religious perspectives of ‘traditional’ Nigeria, but also the progressive, forward thinking and widely read opinions of the population. The author does not offer the stereotypical narrative of closeted homosexuals or queer men who are constantly afraid of speaking out, pushing back or fighting for what is right.

Even with the threat of danger ever present in this book from beginning to end, Nnanna Ikpo presents his readers with the most realistic and relatable account of contemporary, queer Nigerian men doing what they can to make a difference for their community in the best way they know how.

Told mainly through Wale’s eyes, the reader experiences a strong complexity when it comes to the gay community because his character is bisexual. Wale stands behind his and his brother’s cause and work, but seems to often find himself struggling with his sexuality because on a deeper level he feels he’s a hypocrite. While at the same time knows that if he does not play the role of the heterosexual male just fighting for human rights of Nigeria’s minorities, real change may never come.

It is also clear that Wale is motivated by his love for his twin brother, Wole. Though focused on Wale, the author does a wonderful job of painting the clear lines that distinguish the two brothers, regardless of how forward thinking and similar they both are.

Wale seems to have a stronger resolve throughout the narrative than Wole about their decision to keep their sexuality a secret, but at times the author gives the reader a small glimpse of the sadness that lies just beneath Wole’s upbeat and outgoing personality that Wale is always attuned to. Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever: Heaven Gave It To Me, presents a story about love, family, life, hope, equality, community, politics, religion and culture that is so immaculately structured it was difficult to put it down.

One of the moving things about this book, and I could have interpreted it wrong, was there seemed to be a theme of forgiveness with this sense of determination to keeping forward projected with Wale’s perspective. Almost an ambiguous way of expressing that love and perseverance will eventually win-out over hate.

Each chapter opens and closes with a letter or an email and closed with a poem that signifies this ever-continuous foreboding sense of optimistic love and loss that pulls the reader into the chapter.

Like me, I think readers will fall in love with the way Nnanna Ikpo keeps the discussion on human rights consistent and open throughout this book. Connected to Wale’s deep love and pride for being Nigerian, a Christian, and a bisexual man who even, in the end, holds on to the possibility of a better future where there will be change leaves us all hopeful.

 

 

Author Interview:

First off, thank you so much for allowing this brief Q&A. I deeply appreciate it. Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever is a truly wonderful book.

Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed it.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but the title itself, Fimí sílẹ̀, which is referenced in the book, roughly translated from Yoruba means “leave me alone.” What was your inspiration behind the title?

Your translation is in order. The first inspiration for the title was the popular hit track ‘Olufunmi’ by my all-time favourite boy-band Styl-plus, and reflects a longing to explore my Yoruba roots.

I guess my next question counts as a broad, creative writing process question in regards to the book. One of the key shifting points in Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever was the passing of the SSMPA in early 2014, so was that when the concept for the story came to life or were you already writing the book? If so, how long did completing the book take?

The basic premise of Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever came early in 2013. In my initial thoughts, the story would, among other things, be written predictively to show how ugly things could get if the bill became law. Months into writing the first draft, SSMPA was enacted. My anger at this hugely affected the rest of the writing and rewriting process. Our final draft of Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever emerged in December 2016. Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever took roughly four years.

How were the poems at the end of each chapter inspired?

While pieces like ‘Eka aro my love’, ‘Beni Perhaps’ and ‘Oremi Alhaji’ were inspired by personal experiences of real people and places, occasionally even scenarios from Nollywood films, others arose from the independent evolution of the plot and characters in Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever and their interaction with each other.

Do you have a favorite character or scene from this book? Or a least favorite?

This is a difficult question. The plot and characters in Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever were carefully crafted to capture and evoke multiple symbols, ideas, thoughts, dreams and places both real and imagined. All the characters have their merits (and demerits) and are not in competition with each other – and should never be made to be so. Every part of Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever was thought out and deliberated upon by me and informed by others, some of whom were unconsciously part of the creative process. As such I do not have a favourite character, scene, or least favourite one. They are all important parts of Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever’s big picture, and I think necessary.

The book is so rich with character depth and complex narrative layers that keep the reader emerged in the story as the layers slowly unravel. Therefore, I was curious about how much inspiration you took from real life for some of the characters and the strong discussions that take place in this book, i.e. the discussion that takes place at K.U. between the faculty members and Wale and his students for example.

Thank you! Real people and their dynamics in learning and working spaces may differ in form but are substantially similar everywhere, so in Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever, I simply dragged all these people from the several real spaces I have had access to, dropped them into fictitious classrooms and offices and let them deal with each other. Creativity, imagination, editing and rewriting helped me to layer and colour debates.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring Nigerian writers or just writers of the LGBT community who might want to share their stories and continue to bring awareness to the rigid system struggle they are battling?

It is often tricky to advise other writers, even when our primary aim is the same or similar. We have our varying methods, contexts and journeys, and often are strangers to each other. What I have is not so much advice but a salutation, and cognisance of the fact that our work is important and more than that, necessary. And because our art is mostly ‘queer’ and therefore subversive, it may attract more hostility than acclaim. It may not change the world – at least not hugely – but it will not leave it the same, inshallah.

 

Nnanna also runs a personal blog, Letters To My Africa here and you can also follow him on twitter.

This book was truly amazing and even with this review, I do not think I give it enough justice. It is highly recommended. Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out my review for  Fimí sílẹ̀ Forever: Heaven Gave it To Me.

Until the next post,

 

Gia.
Other piece(s) to check out I found that related to some of the perspectives in the book: Tell Me Where I Can Be Safe

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The Yard by Aliyyah Eniath Book Review (+Giveaway)

Sept. 8th Blog Tour DateThe Yard

By: Aliyyah Eniath
Rating: 4.5 stars
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Family Saga, Religion
Released Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
 
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Purchase Links: Amazon

Synopsis:

A story of love and redemption, set in Trinidad, that exposes the fault lines in Indo-Muslim culture. Behrooz is brought to a familial complex, The Yard, to live with a devout and extended family, where he struggles to belong. He forms a childish alliance with Maya, a wilful and rebellious girl, and his guardian’s daughter. After they share a night of adolescent tenderness, Maya, fearing retribution, flees to London. Behrooz painstakingly rebuilds his life and marries another. When tragedy strikes, Maya returns to her childhood home. There, she and Behrooz must face up to old demons. Can their love endure? Even after Maya is dealt the most righteous” blow of all?

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