“Life can be hard. I know how hard it can be. And then she said, ‘Déjate querer.’ Let yourself be loved.”

9781471171031The LGBTQ Book club met way back in March at the Central Library to discuss The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz. It follows Sal through his senior year in high school as he struggles with his identity as the adopted white son of a very supportive gay Mexican-American man, his place in his loving extended family and the trials faced by his best friends.

Book club members liked this poignant coming-of-age story. It isn’t plot driven, but the characters are so well conceived and complex and the story is so uplifting that the pace doesn’t flag. Even in a long book we wanted to hear more from Sal’s supportive family and his best friend, a girl named Sam. It was refreshing that Sam and Sal could be friends without romantic complications. However, we agreed that Sal’s father Vicente was the real star of the novel. His unending patience allowed him to embrace his ex-boyfriend Marcos, to take care of both Sam and Sal’s other friend Fito and to have a successful career as an artist. At times he seemed too saintly, but is certainly an aspirational character. His orientation was both slowly revealed and fully integrated into the story. He becomes the de facto dad to these three motherless teens.

Vicente gives Sal a letter Sal’s dead mother wrote to him. The plot hinges on Sal’s decision to open the letter but we all felt that was secondary to getting to know the characters. We were a bit surprised with what he does with it (especially in a world with social media) but thought the ending was deserved.

We also discussed intersex. Here’s one explanation.

Join us tomorrow for our final meeting as we discuss The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara. We’ll also be hosting an LGBTQ book swap at Central on September 15 from 2-4. Bring your own books and leave with new-to-you  titles. 

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Posted in LGBTQ Book Club

“I bow my head in my hands, den I lift it up again”

Books on Tap met August 1st at Champion Brewing Company to discuss Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.”  

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The story of Cudjo Lewis (born Oluale Kossola) was published in 2018, eight decades after Hurston spent several months in Plateau, Alabama interviewing Lewis as part of her anthropological work under the patronage of Charlotte Mason.

Published in dialect, the book details Cudjo’s life story: how he was captured and came to Alabama from West Africa on the ship Clotilda then freed due to the Civil War after 5 years and 6 months as a slave.  He went on to help establish Africatown, marry, and have 6 children. He gained some celebrity as the last living survivor of the Clotilda.

The use of dialect, which Hurston insisted on keeping, is one reason why it took so long to publish the book.  Some readers found the dialect challenging, but also felt it lent to the authenticity of the story.

The group discussed the resurgence of Hurston’s work. After some of her supporters and peers turned against her, she was buried in an unmarked grave.  In the late 1970’s, Alice Walker spearheaded the re-discovery of Hurston’s work, purchased a headstone for her unmarked grave and wrote the foreword for “Barracoon”.

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“That was my fight: to continue to do little things for people around me, so no one would find fault in my demeanor and misattribute it to my religion.”

The Brown Baggers met on Thursday, August 15 to discuss Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel, A Place for Us.

place for usA Place for Us tells the story of a Muslim Indian American family and their close-knit community in California. The novel opens at the wedding of the oldest daughter, Hadia, where her estranged brother, Amar, also the youngest child and only son, has returned after a long absence. As Mirza goes back and forth in time and alternates points of view, the reader learns why Amar has been gone for so long and the ups and downs that led this family to gather at Hadia’s wedding.

The Brown Baggers had a generally positive reaction to the novel. One member remarked that it was the best fiction they had read in years. Others said they recognized their own family members in the characters and were emotionally moved when the point of view shifted towards the father. Some noted a few stylistic flaws in the novel that they attributed to the author’s young age and inexperience. One of the biggest criticisms was the novel’s unconventional structure. As Mirza weaves through the chronology of events and changes perspectives, the reader can get easily confused about dates and characters.

Despite these quirks, all were impressed by how Mirza captured the story of immigration, particularly how different generations of this Muslim American family assimilated. The parents hold fast to their faith and the old world. The children, on the other hand, feel more inclined to create their own identities and embrace the new world while still respecting their heritage. As a result, each family member relates to their faith and culture differently, thus revealing the power of community and the uniqueness of the immigrant story.

Mentioned:

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America by Beth Macy

Islamic Society of Central Virginia

The Brown Baggers will discuss The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian on Thursday, September 19 at noon in the Central Library and newcomers are always welcome.