Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Five top novels of revolution

A writer of Uruguayan origins, Carolina De Robertis is the author of the novels Cantoras, a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and a New York Times Editors’ Choice; The Gods of Tango, winner of a Stonewall Book Award; Perla; and the international bestseller The Invisible Mountain, which received Italy’s Rhegium Julii Prize.

At Book Marks she shared, with Jane Ciabattari, five great novels of revolution, including:
Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin

This novel has been an underground queer classic in Taiwan since the early 90’s, but only appeared in English for the first time in 2017. Qiu was herself a renegade who tragically killed herself in her mid-20s; in this luminous book, her vision of lesbian desire and gender-bending transgressions in post-martial-law Taipei is so raw and viscerally rendered that you feel on every page the vast courage of coming out, and the earthquake it implies for the status quo.

JC: Qiu’s energy in response to the possibility of the freedom to be herself, as Taipei is being transformed into a more liberal city after the end of Chinese martial rule, is contagious. As she writes at the beginning of Notebook 1 of her narrator Lazi’s journal, “In the past I believed that every man had his own innate prototype of a woman, and that he would fall in love with the woman who most resembled his type. Although I’m a woman, I have a female prototype too.” She struggles with shame, with seeing her love for women a “monstrous sin,” yet as a college student she creates a community of friends who accept her choices. How do you think the surreal crocodiles work to symbolize the choices she faces?

CDeR: That’s one of the mind-blowingly brilliant elements of this book—the story of the crocodiles. It alternates with the narrator’s story, appearing intermittently as a parable, or surreal thread, or extended metaphor, and I can’t speak for all queer readers but for me it was the most incredible revelation to read. The crocodiles are mistrusted, maligned, denounced; they are forced to live in hiding; they are fetishized and exoticized by a popular culture that wants to put them in the limelight without seeing them on their own terms. Meanwhile, these crocodiles hunger only to drink their tea and be alive. The humor and absurdity weaves inextricably through the pain.

Qiu was utterly prophetic in imagining a time when LGBTQ+ lives and truths would get their Will and Grace and Queer Eye moments, to use a shorthand, becoming prurient window dressing for heterocentric culture, and yet still struggle for voice and safety. And, for queer readers, she wrote our beauty—the beauty of our hungers, their goodness and power, the joy and risk and cost of being ourselves—in the most inimitable way.

Qiu means so much to me, as a lesbian writer, and as a queer Latin American writer. Honestly, I have no words.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue