A collection of short stories examines the diversity of global LGBTQ communities and their common challenges.
Pathan’s (Classics, 2017, etc.) incredibly varied collection of 21 stories covers the gamut of LGBTQ issues and the hurdles individuals face. Spanning different generations and cultures, the book takes readers around the world to illustrate that queerness and gender fluidity are not restrained by borders. In England, principal Margery must confront her own prejudices and a growing mob mentality against a young transgender student; in 1950s India, the young Sreekanth tries to escape an arranged marriage to be with another man; and in modern-day Bangkok, Poi works tirelessly to teach safe-sex practices and distribute condoms to the Kathoeys—more commonly known as “ladyboys.” It’s a remarkably inclusive approach to an already broad subject, and Pathan highlights the somewhat lesser-known topics of asexuality and intersex identities with the tender tales “isher” and “(a)sexual story.” As a nod to those well-versed in queer literature, the author has thrown in plenty of references to her inspirations, peppering the book with Oscar Wilde quotes and having characters read Christopher Isherwood or Radclyffe Hall. Pathan also tackles one of the most volatile topics for not just LGBTQ communities, but also the entire world with the tense tale of Salam, Akram, and Nafisa—a gay couple and their Jewish female friend who are trying to hide from Islamic State group rule in Syria. That story, “people of raqqa,” is the collection’s clear standout. But in its final lines, the tale also suffers from a consistent issue—too many moments feel contrived or unnatural for the characters. Pathan often follows a pattern: introduce an LGBTQ issue, bring in some form of bigotry, and then rush to conclude with a terrible act of violence. This problem is most evident in “the books on his lap,” in which an elite NYU professor murders his own child after learning he has befriended lesbians. Although the story offers one of the compendium’s many preposterous twists, readers should still appreciate Pathan’s underlying point that intolerance and danger lurk where they are least expected.
While the writing lacks a subtlety that would suit many of these tales, this volume’s exhaustive approach to elevating queer issues remains commendable.