Loving in Ireland, with John Boyne (A Book Review of ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love, Soul + Spirit

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Before I picked up John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies (Indiebound), I must confess that I barely knew anything about Ireland. The most I’ve read about the country and its history was from Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire, wherein he mostly talked about how a crop, the infamous potato, from a historical, political and epistemological context in the country.

The book centers around Cyril Avery, an Irish gay man who survived. Emphasis on the last word because he did, in every essence, survived everything he went through from being carried in his mother’s womb in the beginning of the book until its last page.

I was traipsing in the Riviera Maya when I started reading the book so that probably made it a little harder for me to get acclimated to. While I was burying my feet in the warm Caribbean sand, it occurred to me that The Heart is probably not the best beach read (whatever that means). But I forged ahead, certain that Boyne had an important story to tell with Avery.

And boy did he! I wasn’t prepared for the kind of violence in the book, even though it’s the kind I’ve known throughout my life even as a young girl in the Philippines. Ireland in 1945 following the declaration of a free Irish State in 1922 was largely influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. Spain brought Catholicism to the Philippines in the 1500s as part of conquest strategy, while Catholicism in Ireland dates back to the fifth century with a history rich with violence itself.

This violence brought on by the Catholic Church: from Cyril’s mother’s exile from her town after getting pregnant out-of-wedlock to the pervasiveness of homophobia in Irish society which resulted to violent deaths. It wasn’t surprising then when one of the characters, whose lover was murdered by his own father on accounts of being gay, would say this:

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Revisiting History, with Rabih Alameddine

Book Reviews, Fiction

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. 
–Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

I walked up the stairs to the Poetry Room of the City Lights Bookstore one evening, eager to see Rabih Alameddine and listen to a reading from his most recent book, The Angel of History (Shop your local indie bookstore)While I did not know much about the new book, I read An Unnecessary Woman this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is every book lover’s delight, and you can read about my review of the book here.

Rabih read two passages from the book, and both times I held my breath at equal intervals — unfamiliar with the story but intimately acquainted with the themes of memory, of remembering all too well.

It couldn’t have been a better time to be reminded of not forgetting. With the onslaught of cultural and political amnesia these days, how can the importance of history be reinstated in a way that fosters consciousness?

The imminent return of a ruling family that nearly destroyed my home country, the Philippines, is terrifying, while the rise of a fascist government in the U.S., which has unleashed a wave of white supremacy all over the country  (even in the most self-proclaimed progressive bastions) is alarming.

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Given the current climate, Rabih was right. And he was bringing up what used to be a significant issue among the population — the AIDS epidemic.

I watched as Rabih expressed his hurt, anger, grief and disbelief, at how easy it is to forget. That just few decades ago, gay men were dying in incredulous numbers as the AIDS epidemic run rampant in places like San Francisco and New York City. I admit that I’m a bad gay ally — that as a queer woman, I really don’t know much about what happened.

The Angel of History explores the life of Jacob, a gay Arab man living in San Francisco whose friends and partner succumbed to the AIDS epidemic. He’s grieving, in utter desolation because of the loss of lives, and he lives out his life as if writing an endless letter to his deceased partner he calls “Doc.”

November Reads: Karan Mahajan, Paul Beatty, Rabih Alameddine, Tomas Tranströmer & More

Sunday Spotlight

New month, new reads.

My book list is looking good and I’m giddy with excitement. For the next few weeks, I’ll be plowing through a few titles, hurling myself in various worlds and literary texts and I cannot wait. So much so that I had to put Fernando Pessoa’s book The Book of Disquiet down because a third into Soares’s observations of downtown Lisbon, I realized reading it was meant for another time.

I started Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs and I can see why the book was shortlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for fiction (ceremony & awarding is on November 16!). Along with Mahajan’s book, I’m ecstatic about the following books I’ve chosen to immerse myself in this month.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout recently snagged the Man Booker Prize for fiction making him the first American to win in the category. Here’s an interview with Beatty from the Guernica on the book that “follows a black narrator who reinstates segregation on public transit, becomes the proud owner of a slave, and verbally thunderclaps Justice Clarence Thomas.”

Rabih Alameddine’s The Angel of History: A Novel is also on the list, and I started following him after reading and writing about his previous book An Unnecessary Woman. I got a chance to see him in person at a reading in San Francisco, where he talked about the necessity of remembering, of how easy it is to forget. His newest book “follows Yemeni-born poet Jacob as he revisits the events of his life, from his maternal upbringing in an Egyptian whorehouse to his adolescence under the aegis of his wealthy father and his life as a gay Arab man in San Francisco at the height of AIDS.”

After reading the first compilation of her journals and notebooks in Reborn, I knew I had to get As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh by Susan Sontag who is easily becoming a favorite. I was moved by her writing on love and queerness and by the critical ways she sought to understand the world — I couldn’t help but ask for more.

The next few titles are ones that I’ll be reading sporadically, in no particular order as I would the previous ones. Tomas Tranströmer’s Selected Poems, Alain de Botton’s Art as Therapy and the latest issue of Kinfolk magazine on Home are all supplements to this month as shorter days and longer nights abound.

What’s on your list this month? Do share in the comments below!

How does the old cliché go? When every Arab girl stood in line waiting for God to hand out the desperate-to-get-married gene, I must have been somewhere else, probably lost in a book.

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Halabi Bookstore, Beirut

Ah, but where to begin with this book? I picked up a copy of Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman from a local bookstore at Green Apple Books. It was nestled in the annex, along with other well-read and creased spines.

Having just read Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers, I was a little disoriented upon reading Alameddine’s first few pages. Porter’s writing had a different style and his voice stuck with me more than I thought it did.

My introduction to Aaliya was abrupt. Who was this character with the blue hair smack dab in Beirut?

Turns out, I have a lot more in common with this precarious woman, this reader with a voracious appetite who could not be bothered to spend time with the three matriarchs who ruled her apartment complex. While Fadia, Marie-Therese and Joumana spent their mornings, afternoons and evenings drinking ambrosia coffee, filing their nails, talking about their children (and their children’s plans or lack thereof), planning trips to the salon, Aaliya spent her days huddled in her apartment devoted to the written word, a phrase that I also use to describe my dedication to literature.

I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time. It is the world outside that box that gives me trouble. I have adapted tamely, though not conventionally, to this visible world so I can retreat without much inconvenience into my inner world of books.

An Unnecessary Woman (And Her Books) by Rabih Alameddine

Book Reviews, Fiction