Posted in Books, LGBT, Reviews, Women's literature

Book Review: The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

It’s always the women and children who pay such a high price when “great men” decide to play the game of thrones. Or so the great GRRM once wrote.

I’ve been immersed in all things Greek mythology lately, and I feel like its all been leading up to where it would always inevitably culminate: the epic Trojan War. Poems, novels, music and movies have been written about the ten-year siege of Troy, and of the notorious Helen, also known as the face that launched a thousand ships.

This book is unique in that it tells the story from the perspective of the women who were sold into slavery at the Greek camps when their cities fell to the mighty Achilles and his legendary army of Myrmidons. It focuses on one woman in particular: Briseis, former queen and now slave to Achilles, the man who burned her city and killed her husband and brothers in the process.

So, these reviews always seem to go on longer than I intend them to. I’ve yet to develop the skill of editing my own work, and I probably never will. But I will try to focus on two main themes for this review, for the sake of being “brief”.

The Spoils of War

I’ve always had a weird fascination for reading about war times, not because I’m particularly interested in weaponry and warfare, but because I’m fascinated by its effect on the people who are left behind. I don’t care much about how the war was won, because for me there’s no such thing. When a country goes to war with another country because diplomacy has failed them in every way, everyone loses.

It always breaks my heart to read about the very human stories behind every major war. And its always the same thing, over and over again, throughout the pages of history: the lost promise of youth, children growing up way before their time, young men who never lived long enough to fulfil the dreams their parents had for them.

Its the story of women who have lost fathers, brothers, husbands and sons; women who were never given the opportunity to fight the battles when they were every bit as invested in the outcome. I think if any government leader should ever take it into their head to go to war over something, they should take a good hard look at the women in their family, and to think about all that they would suffer, and decide whether its worth it.

This is the great thing about this book, because it really highlights all of that, and also how the women of the Trojan War were stripped away from their sense of self, from their identities and individualities, from everything that makes them a person, and were instead relegated into the role of objects.

It brings into stark relief all the humiliations and degradations that these women suffered in the hands of so-called heroes: Achilles, Ajax, Agamemnon (although I’ve always thought of him as sort of a prick), Nestor, and even Odysseus. This is an important book to read, and an important point to make, during these times of change when women everywhere are fighting for equality in every arena. Its a call to arms, a message that we will no longer allow this to happen. And for all of that, I salute you, Pat Barker. 

Love is Love is Love

To end this review on a more positive note, I’d like to revisit the story of Achilles and Patroclus. Despite numerous research into the matter, historians are still unable to agree on whether these two were lovers or just really really really close friends. After reading about them in Madeline Miller’s fabulous book, The Song of Achilles, and again here, I am of the opinion that at the end of the day, it makes no bloody difference.

Whether it was the love between brothers, friends or lovers, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is the kind of love that is strong enough to transcend labels, powerful enough to turn the tide of the Trojan War and so powerful that, in my heart, I am sure that it even defied death.

The Greeks, for all their brutal ways, had no hang-ups whatsoever when it comes to sexuality. Hercules had both male and female lovers, it did not make him any less of a legend in their eyes. I love reading about these stories, and I particularly love revisiting the story of Achilles and Patroclus, because it gives me hope.

It gives me hope that if a love like that can exist, there is a future for all of us to look forward to, one in which wars cease to be a possibility, and a world where you can just be free to love who you love, regardless of class, race, age or gender. And that is the kind of ideology that IS worth fighting for.

 

Briseis came to a conclusion towards the end of the book that, for all that she tried to defy and escape him, she was ultimately just another spoke in the wheel, just another supporting character to Achilles’ story. But that doesn’t mean that she does not get to try to write her own story and her own future.

Ultimately, this is what this book is about. We are all free to make our own choices, chart our own destinies and write our own stories. You don’t need to be a hero. You just need to be a person with hopes, dreams and, more importantly, the capacity to love…because long after all the songs have been written about battles and triumphs, its the human tale of love that will endure.

Fabulous book! 4 out of 5 stars. 

Posted in Books, LGBT, Movies, relationships, Reviews, romance, Self-Discovery

Book Review: Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

I’ve always believed that a book’s power lies in its ability to make it’s readers feel. As someone who’s been both an avid book reader and an extremely emotional person all my life, feeling for the stories I’ve read has never been a problem for me. Its probably why I spent my first 10 years as a reader reading romance novels because they always guaranteed a happy ending; they were probably so far off the mark as far as realism is concerned, but they were relatively painless and angst-free.

This book is not painless and angst-free.

I’ve never read any book where I spent the first three chapters with a hand over my heart because it was throbbing so badly from feeling too much and because I was relating too closely to a character. I was probably twenty pages into the book when I started questioning my sanity for voluntarily subjecting myself to the kind of reading experience that exposes far too many truths about my own self and my own experiences.

Elio and Oliver meet when the latter spends the summer at the former’s villa in Northern Italy (his parents usually adopt graduate students over the summer). Elio becomes infatuated with Oliver even before he consciously realises it. It first came on as a desire to please, then later this need to be around another person all the time, as if you might die if you’re not within their orbit or if you can’t keep them within your sight at all times. It then turns into an all-consuming infatuation, even something that can almost be mistaken for love.

I am not a good enough writer to even come close to giving this book a fitting summary. All I can really say is how it made me feel. And I’m sorry, I don’t mean to take away from whatever message this book is intended to convey about love being love no matter what; I also don’t meant to disregard how important works like these are to the LGBT community (of which I am an avid supporter). But I mean it as a compliment of the highest order when I say that while I was reading this book, I completely forgot that I was reading about two guys who are discovering that everything they knew about themselves may have been a lie. All I knew was that I was reading about and relating to two people experiencing love, and all the joys and aching sorrow that comes with it, for the first time.

I was watching a video on YouTube where the actor who plays Elio was giving an interview and he says that this story, both book and film, transcends gender issues and will mean different things to different viewers/readers. And therein lies the magic of it: It becomes one thing or another depending on who watches it. Yes, its very much a thousand steps forward in terms of gay cinema/literature, but for me its simply a love story. You don’t have to be straight, gay, bi or trans to relate to this story, you just have to be human.

Anyone who’s ever felt the torture of wondering whether your feelings are reciprocated or not, anyone who’s ever experienced the agony of waiting for just one kind word or compliment from the object of their affections, anyone who’s ever felt jealous when said object seems to have feelings for someone else, anyone who’s ever done something they didn’t need to do just because the other person asked for it, anyone who’s ever been simultaneously afraid and exhilarated by the feeling of having given someone the power to either make you happy or break your heart into pieces….they will all relate to and love this book.

There’s one more thing I want to say before I end this review:

Memories are a powerful thing; they sneak up on you when you least expect it, and they surprise you with how much you can still feel even after so many years have passed. This book reminded me of two things: the first time I ever gave my heart to someone, a long long time ago; and the first time I’ve ever felt the pain of saying goodbye to someone that I knew I could have loved if we only had more time. Both were experiences that, if you ask me, I’d really rather forget because they just hurt too much. I think I pushed those memories aside so that I could have the strength to carry on with the business of living. In the process, I also probably closed off a vital part of myself without knowing it. You believe a little less, and doubt a little more because your heart’s been bruised before. I think now that I may have been wrong about that and so many other things. As Elio’s father says towards the end of this book:

We rip so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not feel anything – what a waste!

I highly highly recommend this book. Five stars, applause and a 10 minute standing ovation. Click on image below to buy on Amazon!

Posted in Books, LGBT, romance, Young Adult

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Remember your first crush?

Remember walking down the corridors of your high school and blushing whenever you catch a glimpse of that one cute guy who seems to shine just a little bit brighter than everyone else?

Remember the late night conversations with your friends trying to decipher and construe every conversation and gesture, looking for any hidden meaning or indication that he feels the same way?

Remember your first heartbreak, like when you find out he likes someone else and you comfort yourself with a tub of rocky road ice cream and listen to emo music (Jann Arden in my case)?

These are the kind of memories that this book evokes. It takes you back to a time in your life when every feeling and emotion is magnified (probably because of teenage hormones). It recalls the innocence of first love and I think it captures it perfectly, with just the right amount of self-deprecating humour, sweetness and angst. 

But you know what the most beautiful thing about this book is?

Its about two teenage boys falling in love for the first time. I am really happy to be living in a time where books like this can be published and widely read, not just by the lgbt community but by mainstream readers as well. I think that ten years ago, a kid growing up confused about his sexuality would have felt alone and depressed whereas I fervently hope that now, with all the support and books like Simon, they would know that there are other people going through the same thing and that it DOES get better.

I love Simon’s internal monologue, I really like getting into his head and seeing his take on things. I love that he is a huge fan of Harry Potter and I love that he does theatre. I love the fact that he thinks “coming out” shouldn’t be exclusive to gay people and that straight people should come out as straight too. I love that he thinks straight shouldn’t be the default setting and I love that he was able to bring a sense of humour to his own eventual coming out. 

I know that coming out is a really serious issue for teens, and I’ve read several books where this hasn’t turned out well. But, spoiler alert, its great to read a book for once where family and friends really rally around the character in order to give him support. It gives you hope that that kind of tolerance will eventually be the norm. Love is love people, get with the program.

There’s a mystery to be solved here and if you guys are anything like me, you’ll be tempted to just read through the end to find out who “Blue” is but trust me, you don’t want to spoil the experience. I honestly guessed it early on but I kept getting thrown by the red herrings. However, just like when I’m reading crime and mystery, I know that its rarely the obvious suspect whodunit because where’s the fun in that? And also if you’re really observant, Blue gives himself away in one of his emails to Simon. 

Anyway, if it was possible to die from sweetness overload, I would have keeled over last night. I finished the book and just went “awwwww“. It kinda makes me miss high school, although I wouldn’t go so far as to wish to go through adolescence again. If you’re looking for a nice and easy read, add this to your to-read list! I guarantee you won’t regret it. 

Posted in LGBT, Lifestyle, relationships, romance

Love Wins Part 2: The Wedding Ceremony

I was and always will be a sucker for weddings.

There is something about it that fills me with so much hope. In this world where you can barely get a decent date, it seems like a miracle to me that someone could actually find a partner to share their life with. And in a way, Daim and Tom’s marriage is nothing short of a miracle. 

I’ve already talked about how happy I am that we have become so enlightened as a society such that two men getting married is now almost as commonplace as a wedding between a man and a woman. And I also think its fantastic that through sheer chance, Daim and Tom’s wedding happened to fall on Pride Weekend in the UK. Everytime I see them as a couple, I always think #lovewins. I’m sure it could not have been easy for them to get to this point, and while their story is not mine to tell, I know that they’ve made a lot of compromises along the way to become the partners that they are now. I have no words to describe how happy I am for them.

There were two things that struck me about this wedding. Two things other than the fact that everything was so gorgeous and meticulously planned. First was how accepting everyone was of the fact that this was an occasion of two men getting married. No one remarked upon it, it wasn’t an issue throughout the day, and we’re talking about two cultures (British and Filipino) who are quite conservative and strict about sexuality. But today, it wasn’t about any political correctness or equality, it was simply that everyone was there because they loved them both and they would love whoever it was that either decided to marry.

The second thing was how much the two cultures were equally represented and celebrated. I’ve always thought there was a great divide between the two cultures that no amount of love could ever span and the most you can hope for in an interracial marriage was that one partner would tolerate the other. But today, not only were those two cultures accepted, they were also celebrated. I could not stop a tear from falling when Tom was given the traditional Filipino blessing by Damier’s mum. Or when the person officiating the ceremony told everyone to stand up to greet the bride and groom because this was a Filipino culture. There was a wedding breakfast which is traditionally British (and confusing to me because this was at 4 in the afternoon) and a hog roast during the ball which is the closest thing to the traditional Filipino lechon that you can get in England. 

Their families all tried to get on and interact. The naturally reticent and shy Filipinos were welcomed by the more sociable British. The children were fast friends and playing together by the end of the weekend.  They both had a mixture of British and Filipino friends. It was absolutely beautiful. And I think this really parallels the relationship between these two men. You could not find two people who are more different, but rather than loving each other despite their differences, they love each other becaue of it. Damier’s certainly never voluntarily set foot in a musueum before Tom. And before Damier, I’m sure Tom had rice with his meals about once a month. 

At the end of the day, its not about all the ways in which they are different, but about how they grow together to merge those differences and achieve the kind of partnership that will last. I know this wedding is visually and aesthetically stunning, but I think it would still have been beautiful even if it were in a barn full of hay and horse manure simply because of the joy and love that filled the occasion. 

I love coming to weddings because they fill me with hope. There are things that will last, that will stand the end of time. There is still room for the kind of love that makes you a better person because of it. The kind of love that breaks barriers of race and gender, this is the kind celebrated here today because as Maya Angelou said:

Love recognises no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to its destination full of hope.

There is so much happiness going around the room today that I have not stopped crying since the wedding started. I am so so happy for these two men. They deserve every happiness and every good thing that’s coming their way. Congratulations Tom and Daim! 

Posted in friendship, LGBT, relationships

Love Wins: A Love Letter to Damier

Dear Damier,

Here  we are, one week before you finally marry the love of your life. 5 years ago when we first met, you seemed so sure that you would never get to this stage. You never thought you’d find the person that you’d plan a future with, that you’d share the rest of your life with. I’m so happy that this is one of those times when I can prove you wrong, because you have found HIM.

I remember when same-sex marriage was approved in the States last year; I immediately thought of you, although its been legal in the UK for a while. I always say that I can’t imagine a world where you don’t get to be your fabulous self. I can’t imagine a world where someone gets to decide who you can or can’t have feelings for. I can’t imagine that someone would think you’re somehow less of a man just because you happen to be in love with another man. They don’t know your courage, your generosity, everything that you’ve sacrificed, how hard you’ve worked to provide for your family. You are more than a man than most of the men I know. You just also happen to be good at shopping and putting on make-up for me. :p

You’ve always been my number one fan, and you know I’ve always been yours. Without you, I wouldn’t be the confident and empowered person that I am. You’ve always encouraged me to avoid setting limits for myself when it comes to my physical attributes, because that’s always been one of my biggest insecurities. But you’ve taught me to break through those barriers. In return, I am telling you now that I will fight to the death to make sure no one ever sets barriers for you. You can do anything daim, and we’ll be there to cheer you on all the way. I cannot wait for you to reach this milestone in your life, I just know that you are going to make the best husband. Tom is a lucky guy and he knows it. 🙂

I’m not going to get too sappy; I’ll save that for the wedding. I just didn’t want to end the night and not say how happy I am for you, and how much I think you deserve every happiness that comes your way. Happy Hen-Tag buang! I hope you enjoyed your Butler in The Buff. I’ll see you at the wedding. Xx