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.”