[Poetry] A Tree Whose Name I Don’t Know by Golan Haji

I have been following the releases of A Midsummer Night’s Press primarily because they publish queer and trans poetry, Jewish poetry, and the intersections of the two. But they also publish an amount of poetry in translation that falls into neither of those rubrics but is interesting to me nonetheless. This is one such volume, and one I had the opportunity to read just before the publication date. You can now buy the book, and yes, you might want to do so!

A Tree Whose Name I Don’t Know, by Golan Haji. Translated by Stephen Watts & Golan Haji. A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2017.

A Tree Whose Name I Don't Know cover

Golan Haji, the author is a Kurdish Syrian poet who writes in Arabic, and who has left his country of origin in 2011 (he currently lives in France). This is his first English-language collection, but previously he has been published in Italian, and he has had an amount of shorter poems appear in English translation – as far as I can tell, these have been mostly included in this book.

These poems are rich in imagery and have that kind of flow that I associate with Arabic (and Hebrew!) poetry in translation. The translation is smooth and does not get in the way; there was maybe one line in the entire lengthy book where I felt the sentence was a bit suboptimal.

Yes, this is a lengthy book – don’t be misled by the fact that it is only 62 pages long: the poems are dense and many prose poems are also included in the collection. I for one could not rush through it: I read it in three different sittings and even that felt a bit fast. I had to go back and savor some of the earlier poems.

One reason why you will probably not want to rush is that one of the most prominent themes of the collection is death. Sometimes capital-D Death. It is a topic that the poems always return to circle around, and it is always there in the background even if it’s not the main focus.

While I thought from the promo material that this would be a tightly migration-focused book, migration-related issues do appear, but often in a very abstract way. There are birds presaging death, all manner of things crumbling, ships bringing death to coasts.

“The rescue boats became coffin lids
and only the coffin lids survived” (The Child’s Regret)

One of the poems tackling these topics relatively directly is the absolutely stunning epic piece “Mr. Nobody Listening to His Own Story at the Cour of King Alcinous”.

“They told us metaphors that we found laughable,
we heard that a wound is a window & a mirror,
in which a white hand waves while we pause to rest in its shade, but photographers hunt us
down like snipers.”

(I would be inclined to draw a distant parallel with a poem of a different modern conflict, the Bosnian war – “Death is a Job” by Semezdin Mehmedinović.)

But often there is the crushing weight of abstraction: “Consciousness is indeed obscene.” (Snow) And this abstraction transposed to landscapes that have a constrictive, ominous sense of surrealism to them, calling Magritte’s paintings to mind.

“At this moment, the man is suspended in mid-air like a diver or a foetus, his body a ball, and nothing is holding him in place; around him small leaves and fruits are dropping from the beak of birds that are flying above him, though we cannot see them.” (A Light in Water)

Family appears, often in the context of loss and pain, but sometimes related to childhood and innocence – or both at the same time:

“I am my happiness and my dereliction.
I open the book and close it and open it again,
freeing in a small victory
the door of a grave
I pull tight on my self
like a child hiding away in a closet.” (The Lock)

All in all this book is poignant and will stay with you, but you will want to know going in that it is by no means a light read. That’s not a weakness; it’s a strength. I think this book achieves exactly what it was meant to achieve. Sometimes the world is like that, and you see it like that. There is grimness and death and also birds and spiders and trees whose names you don’t know.

Disclosures: Source of the book: print reviewer ARC from the publisher. I don’t know the author and the translator at all.

Content notices: Death, destruction, persecution, war, it is all meant to be upsetting. There is some ableist language but not a main focus.

Buy the book: Also directly from the publisher with free shipping (!)


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[Comics] M.F.K. volume 1 by Nilah Magruder

Still dealing with the aftereffects of our car accident, but writing book reviews makes me cheerful, so there might actually be book reviews now that the Jewish High Holidays are over and I have a bit of time. 🙂 I will try to focus on the things people sent me physical copies of and not the 8473984 library books I read while moving. Yes, I still need to get back to doing the batch of QUILTBAG Jewish reviews I had planned. But first, one of the comics whose launch I have been eagerly awaiting! This review was sponsored by the Bradley-Jimenez household, who bought the book for Spouseperson’s birthday – see below. 🙂

M.F.K. volume 1 by Nilah Magruder. Insight Comics, 2017.

MFK coverI read this originally as a webcomic and praised it highly – I was very pleased to see it published in book format.

Diverse secondary world fantasy? I cannot have enough diverse secondary world fantasy, and this story hits upon many of my other interests too.

M.F.K. is about two young people, one of them a mysterious traveler who stumbles upon a desert village, and the other living in said village. I like that it does not turn into the very obvious Generic Romance Arc and instead it offers a friendship – getting to know each other arc.

I think the strength of the book – besides the wonderful, dynamic, strikingly colored art – is the focus on magic as a source of social power. The conflicts related to that are sensible and thought through, even though we haven’t seen a lot of the broader universe of M.F.K. at this point. The story also doesn’t get didactic or preachy at any point, there is action and gutwrenching emotions and sadness and anger and joy.

M.F.K. also has a main character who uses a hearing aid, and is a magical person, but magic is totally unconnected to disability. The character just incidentally uses a hearing aid. That was very refreshing to see.

The webcomic origin means that some bits are a bit inconsistent due to the original per-page updates format, but it is nothing particularly distracting. (Panel borders change thickness partway through.) It is still a very cohesive work, though very much a Part 1 and I WANT MORE YES PLEASE.

I really hope there will be a part 2 – there is another chapter online -, but I’m a bit apprehensive that the book itself doesn’t say “Volume 1” anywhere. I’m also disappointed that the book has no author biography. This is a major release by an award-winning Black woman artist (who is also asexual!) and there is absolutely no mention of her as a person or her other work. (I really liked her kids’ book How to Catch a Fox, too.) So please look her up and read her work and promote her.

Disclosures: Source of the book – Birthday gift for Spouseperson by J. José Jimenez and Lisa M. Bradley. Thank you!!!

I have been following the author on Twitter ever since I started reading the webcomic, but sadly never met her.

Content notices: Physical violence, killing a large dying animal, discrimination.

Buy the book (Amazon associate link):


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October diverse book highlights, part 2

This is one of those roundups that just kept on getting longer and longer. I’m not complaining! November will be a more sparse month, so keep an eye on the October releases. Part 1 was here.

If you are interested in getting these roundups weeks earlier, they are a feature on my Patreon at and above $5 / month. Getting ready to send out the November one…

Note that I will be away for the Jewish holidays, so things are a bit out of order and the next blog post will only happen on Sunday (G-d willing).

Things are also out of order because we were in a car accident last week and I’m just getting back my bearings. Thank you very much everyone for all the support! Huge thanks to Nino Cipri for helping us get to the towing yard and extract things from our car!!

And now, the books…

Hollow Girl cover

Oct 10: Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan [YA/MG] [SFF]

Ownvoices YA dark fantasy / horror by a Romani author, this looks magical in a really gritty way. (I have seen a really baffling trade review totally missing the fact that this is an ownvoices book. Please do not police Roma out of their own representation.) I have been looking forward to this book and finally here it comes!

Monsters in My Mind cover

Oct 13: Monsters in My Mind by Ada Hoffmann [SFF]

Very cool SFF short story collection with a horror bent. I blurbed this book, so I’ve read it already 🙂 It has neuroatypicality themes too, and the author is autistic (and fellow book blogger! Go read Autistic Book Party). I haven’t found a preorder for the book, so I just linked the Goodreads page – sorry about that.

A Tree Whose Name I Don't Know cover

Oct 15: A Tree Whose Name I Don’t Know by Golan Haji [Poetry] [Translation]

Translated poetry collection by a Syrian Kurdish author! I have been looking forward to this and I just got a print ARC 🙂 I have been feeling like reviewing poetry lately, so you might get this quite soon.

Long Way Down cover

Oct 17: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds [YA/MG] [Poetry]

More poetry, but probably very different! This is a contemporary YA epic poem about gun violence (I don’t think I need to introduce Jason Reynolds?) and the advance reviews are stellar. YA epic poetry has been really growing and I am extremely happy to see more and more amazing titles being published.

…Also OMG look at that preorder discount!

Transcendent 2 cover

Oct 23: Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction 2016, edited by Bogi Takács [SFF]

If I’m not promoting stuff I edited, who will? I loved how this book came together, there were so many amazing trans stories published last year. Now you get my favorites all in one place!

The Beautiful Ones cover

Oct 24: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia [Adult] [SFF]

I have enjoyed Silvia’s two previous novels and also her short fiction! This is a comedy of manners with… telekinesis? Sign me up 😀 It is really interesting to see that with her, each book is thoroughly different… though I would also like to see a multi-book epic by her.

Beasts Made of Night cover

Oct 31: Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi [YA/MG] [SFF]

Nigerian-inspired secondary world fantasy, with rich language and worldbuilding – this is another of those “sign me up” moments, even though many of the advance reviewers seemed to be confused by the very aspects that make me interested in the book.

(I need to think through more which books I actually want in ARC, because this was one of those and I did nothing to obtain it 🙁 Now that our multi-month-long housing disaster is mostly over, I can actually do this, but first I want to work my way through my reviews backlog.)

Black Panther & The Crew cover

Oct 31: Black Panther & The Crew vol. 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Yona Harvey [Adult] [SFF] [Comics]

I totally do not get why Marvel would cancel a series that targets a crowd that primarily buys the trade paperbacks (as opposed to single issues) before the trade paperbacks even come out. But. This is that thing. 🙁 I haven’t read it, it is probably going to be great, and I stopped understanding Marvel’s business decisions a while ago.


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[Poetry] The Emperor of Water Clocks by Yusef Komunyakaa

The Emperor of Water Clocks by Yusef Komunyakaa. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

The Emperor of Water ClocksI have to start with an apology; this review has been a long time coming. I won a copy of this book on a Goodreads giveaway, but it took me a while to review it, because while I am a fan of Komunyakaa’s poetry, this particular volume didn’t click with me… and that’s always difficult to say. I also gave away the book, and then broke my phone which had screenshots of the parts I wanted to quote. To finish this review, I had to go get another copy from the library, which took a while. So things just came together badly and I didn’t manage to post about this book sooner. I’m really sorry about that!


The Emperor of Water Clocks had some standout individual poems on a very wide range of topics. like “Rock Me, Mercy” on the Sandy Hook shooting (you can read this poem in its entirety on the Poetry Foundation website and I suggest that you do); “The Green Horse” on the echoes of Roman antiquity (“L, everything around here is an epitaph.”); “Transference & Bling” on a bus stop encounter (I would also prefer to quote this entire poem, so you just have to pick up the book).

“The Day I Saw Barack Obama Reading Derek Walcott’s Collected Poems” reflected both on Obama as a politician, Obama as a person, Walcott as a poet, and the interrelations of the three. This was simply fascinating to read, and I didn’t expect I would be interested in a poem that is literally just about watching someone read a book. Masterful. “He’s reading someone who won’t speak / of milk & honey, but of looking ahead / beyond pillars of salt raised in a dream / where fat bulbs split open the earth.”

But it also had less successful ones – and perhaps just as importantly, I did not feel like the volume overall cohered as a collection. It was as if I were reading the beginning few poems of a cycle, multiple times, but then the topic changed and changed. While there were themes, it did not feel to me that they were thoroughly explored. Some of the poems even came across as repeating (I was not sure what was the need for both “Sperm Oil” and “Ironwork”, specifically). I thought the beginning few poems presenting a variety of courtly characters would stretch through the book or a longer cycle, but it didn’t happen; then there were several poems engaging contemporary issues, but these also didn’t really form a larger unit.

I also felt that when Komunyakaa tried to engage with other cultures, it wasn’t always successful. The occasional Native themes felt uncomfortable to me, especially since they had word choices that Native people have asked other people not to use – like in “Envoy to Palestine”: “My coyote heart is an old runagate / redskin, a noble savage, still Lakota, / & I knew the bow before the arch.” And it wasn’t just about individual words and what is the correct terminology, but also a more general ambience of identifying oneself with Native people that has a bad history among non-Native people: “now I know why I’d rather die a poet / than a warrior, tattoo & tomahawk.”

Related to my own ethnicity, there was a poem about interbellum European history that felt anti-Semitic to me. “Common Wealth” had this passage: “For a while, they only knighted / robber barons with regal noses / & an inexhaustible love / for Henry James & Hollywood.” The entire poem itself seemed to build on the trope of the secularized Jewish parvenu whose figure is brought up in various anti-Semitic justifications that the Jews somehow deserved the Holocaust. Now, I don’t THINK this was the author’s original intent – at least I truly and genuinely hope so. (Henry James was himself an anti-Semite.) But as a European, these were the echoes this poem immediately evoked for me: this was common rhetoric both in the interwar period and in some neo-Nazi or even “moderate” right wing circles even today, so it was painful to read. Doubly so that “regal noses” and “Hollywood” is very common coded language for Jews. I honestly didn’t even know how to engage with this, period. I confess I contemplated not even doing so, but I did get a print reviewer copy, so I felt bad about just letting it languish. There you go.

Overall I do recommend that if you like Komunyakaa’s poetry, you might want to pick this up from the library because the poems that are hits are really hits. The misses left me wincing, though, and I personally did not want to own this book. If you’re not familiar with his work, I do recommend starting with some of his earlier poems. (I even translated some of his other poems to Hungarian, but I have no idea how to find a journal for this type of material, I am a complete outsider to Hungarian literary publishing. So for the moment they only exist on my computer.)

Source of the book: Reviewer copy from the publisher via Goodreads giveaway. I don’t know the author in person.


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[Novelette] Medic to the Hivemind by Kayla Bashe

This week I’ll be doing a special: recent QUILTBAG Jewish short-form writing! Three novelettes / novellas that came out in the past year or so, in wide-ranging genres: science fiction, urban fantasy and contemporary romance. Enjoy 🙂

Medic to the Hivemind by Kayla Bashe. Torquere Press, 2016

Medic to the Hivemind coverA note: This story was originally published by QUILTBAG publisher Torquere Press, which shut down shortly afterward, leaving many authors unpaid. The novelette is currently not available for purchase, and the author is looking for a new home for it – she says suggestions are welcome!

This is a science fiction F/F romance story about Tash Blumenthal, a nerdy young Jewish woman who crashlands on a planet occupied by an aggressive hivemind-creature. Tash  manages to escape with the aid of Soleil, a stranger who’s helping her over her commlink… but when they meet in physicality, it turns out the situation is not quite as it seemed.

The actual escaping is not shown in detail – beyond the initial scene that establishes what happened previously, most of the story occurs on the rescue ship that came for Tash. I was a bit confused by the beginning, I felt it could have been expanded with a few more scenes – but I also liked that in this way, the two main characters already came to the story knowing each other and having a preexistent relationship.

When the novelette got into its swing after a bit of initial roughness, I ended up really enjoying it. This is one of those cases where the plot has so many of my favorite themes, it is hard for the writer to go wrong – alien groupminds! Jittery nerdy protagonist who runs around somewhat bumblingly and goes on long rants about her field! Suddenly Jewish things! Etc. But the execution also worked out in favor of the story, which was a relief. The frantic pacing, which worried me at first, was absolutely in keeping with the protagonist’s character as a young brash woman who runs around while being confused and agitated and yet cheerful and enthusiastic. I seldom see this type of character who is also kind of like me. (Another QUILTBAG Jewish writer and coincidentally my spouse, Rose Lemberg also has some characters like this, but it’s a rarity.)

Along these lines, I really really liked that the protagonist was allowed to rant about her scholarly interests, because whenever that happens in most other stories, usually the other characters shut it down very rapidly – even in science fiction, where there is usually more infodumping than in other genres. I am a person who likes to rant about their scholarly interests, so this was something I could really identify with. This was also portrayed as a plus in the developing romantic relationship between the two women, which I almost never see. And it was more presented as a personality characteristic about how one approaches socializing, than as a writing device to give the reader an infodump: “For one brief, perfect moment, their lives had touched; Tash sharing the scientific beauty of her world, her quirky jokes. Letting Soleil soothe her fears.”

I also really enjoyed the hurt / comfort dynamic that was one of the main themes of the story, with Soleil having gotten Tash through a lot of very traumatic events of her escape (mostly not shown) just by talking to her on the radio. It was an unexpected bonus to also have hints of D/s: “If anything, I am hers.” (Oh yes please can I get a sequel?) I liked that they explicitly discussed that there was more to their relationship than just the previous, situation-driven hurt / comfort: “What I mean is, I don’t love you because I was scared and you comforted me, or because I was alone and you helped me survive. I love you because you’re the bravest, most amazing person I’ve ever met. And it is kind of a plus that you laugh at my jokes.”

There is a big plot twist that is probably quite guessable from how I have been going about this review (ROT-13: Fbyrvy vf cneg bs n abaivbyrag fcyvagre snpgvba bs gur nyvra uvirzvaq) and it creates a lot of tension, but as the story is not very long, it is resolved fast. I really liked that the plot went this way, subverting some of the tropes that I was worried about re: groupminds (ROT-13: anzryl gung tebhczvaqf ner nyjnlf rivy.)

It was also interesting for me to see how telepathy was presented very matter-of-factly. Even in SF stories which have hiveminds explicitly labeled as such, there is often a “gasp! telepathy!” moment, which always throws me out of the narrative, because wouldn’t it be just a regular occurrence in such a setting? Here the protagonists’ psychic link is presented as a Why Of Course thing, and the tension has more to do with whether they want to keep and maintain it.

Similarly, the protagonist being Jewish was also presented as something that’s definitely there and adding to the characterization – at one point it was used to evoke a specifically heimishe feeling, which might go past non-Jewish readers, but I appreciated it and felt that it added to the romance. But Jewishness was by and large not problematized – neither was queerness, for that matter. Tash was simply Jewish and a woman loving women, and the main conflicts had little to do with these identity aspects. I really like it that now this can be a Thing in QUILTBAG Jewish fiction, because especially if you read older short fiction work by other authors (say, from the 1980s-90s), it is usually very heavily identity-focused and I like more variety. The week’s stories will also have more variety!

I enjoyed that what was problematized was – among other things – research ethics related to coming into contact with hostile aliens, and simple researcher greed to be the first. I got a laugh out of how the protagonist dealt with the situation – oh the valuable research data!

Overall I was glad I read this novelette – I think a sequel or even a prequel of similar length would also work quite well and flesh out the parts that were a bit underspecified or elided. The ending hints at a quite action-packed continuation, but I don’t know if anything like that is planned at all.

A small interesting detail at the end: I kind of guessed the hurt / comfort theme from the title, but I did not guess that (ROT-13) vg jbhyq or gur uvirzvaq pbzsbegvat gur zrqvp naq abg ivpr irefn! Well played 😀

Source of the book: I got an ebook copy from the author after querying her for it (I heard about the queer Jewish themes). I have known her online for quite an amount of time.

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October diverse book highlights, part 1

Part 1 of the October roundup makes me really happy!! Many diverse adult SFF releases – part 2 will have more YA and will likewise be awesome.

An Unkindness of Ghosts cover

Oct 3: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon [Adult] [SFF]

This SFF novel got some amazing advance buzz – the kind where the buzz isn’t huge in absolute terms, but it comes from the people whose opinions I really value. It is a debut title by a Black disabled queer / GNC author and it might be the independent-press SFF hit of the year! The summary makes it sound like it will be a heavy but very worthwhile read.

Under the Pendulum Sun cover

Oct 3: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng [Adult] [SFF]

Gothic fantasy that disassembles genre conventions? Yes please! This book also supposedly has a religious / theological aspect, which makes me overjoyed. Angry Robot has been putting out fascinating titles by diverse authors and I need to hurry up and review them!

We Were Eight Years in Power cover

Oct 3: We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates [Nonfiction]

I really appreciate Coates’ nonfiction (his comics writing too!) and I would very much like to read his take on the Obama years. This would also seem like a great pairing with Hillary Clinton’s election retrospective.

Bloodprint cover

Oct 10: The Bloodprint by Ausma Zemanat Khan [Adult] [SFF]

Diverse, feminist epic fantasy! This one also has religious aspects, October is basically my month this year. *rubs hands gleefully together* (Amazon might be confused filing it with inspirational books. I mean, I guess it is inspirational 😉 , but not in that sense!)

Monday Starts on Saturday cover

Oct 10: Monday Starts on Saturday by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky [Adult] [SFF] [Translation]

Okayyy I loved this book and this is a new English translation (I read it in Hungarian translation; the original is in Russian). Fantasy satire of a Soviet-era research institute (!), memorable and quotable moments. I hope the sequel will also be released, but this is a fine standalone.

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#DreamRepBingo Card 2: Authors

Please see Part 1 for Card 1: Themes and an explanation of #DreamRepBingo!

I decided to do two cards because I would like to focus on authors as usual, but I also wanted to make a list of cool themes. These cards are numbered 1 and 2, but those are not priorities or anything.

An additional self-imposed rule: I would be very happy to credit the same book on Card 1 and 2, but I would prefer not to credit the same book multiple times per card, even if it qualifies.

And now on to Card 2… Please keep on recommending books I could include. 🙂


Autistic Jewish author:

Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sønderby

Jewish QUILTBAG author:

I have a list of many dozens of books that would fit, but I will probably read something by Lev Raphael, Shira Glassman or Kayla Bashe.

Intersex ethnic / racial minority author:

Born Both by Hida Viloria

Queer / trans author of color:

Queer Heartache by Kit Yan – I just read this!

Bi/multiracial author:

I haven’t made up my mind yet here! I got many many recommendations on Twitter 🙂

Black Jewish author:

The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty

Mizrachi Jewish author:

Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali

Indigenous Finno-Ugric author:

African author in translation:

Finnish Weird author:

I will probably read the Worldcon Finnish weird showcase collection (thank you Sara Norja for sending me a copy!)

Central Asian author:

Author who left Jewish Orthodoxy but is still observant:

My Life in Jewish Renewal by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Author who converted to Judaism:

Ethnic minority author from former USSR:

Romani author writing in English:

The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan

Romani author not writing in English:

I will probably read Akik élni akartak by Menyhért Lakatos (I read most of his other books, but missed out on this one), but it really depends on what I can get ahold of.

Disabled Indigenous author:

Ethnic minority author from Eastern Europe:

I kind of feel like reading a Hungarian Jewish or Romani or Beás author would be too easy, so I would prefer someone from a country besides Hungary.

Indigenous QUILTBAG/2S author:

Passage by Gwen Benaway

Caribbean author:

Lex Talionis by RSA Garcia. Or something by Nalo Hopkinson I haven’t read yet, because I’m a huge fan of hers and want to fill Alllll the gaps in my reading.

Anthology of marginalized authors:

Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction ed. Nalo Hopkinson

Single-author story collection of marginalized author:

Translated anthology of marginalized authors:

More than one trans author:

Nearly Roadkill by Caitlin Sullivan & Kate Bornstein

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#DreamRepBingo Card 1: Themes

Book Deviant had a very cool idea for a reading challenge, Claudie Arseneault, Mixeduppainter and a bunch of other people joined in, and #DreamRepBingo was born.

You can read more about it here.

Basically the idea is that you make a bingo card of things YOU want to read, and then go forth and find them if they exist. Or something along those lines!

I ended up making myself two bingo cards, one for authors and one for themes. I’m still trying to come up with books to read that might qualify, so this is also a little TBR / plans list. As you can see, I’m totally drawing a blank on many of these categories. 🙁 Do please comment if you have titles to recommend!

I would like all of these themes to be written by a marginalized author, ideally.

Themes list, see below

And now, the list…

Marginalized person in magical apprenticeship:

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee – I just read this, review coming soon!

Ethnic / racial / cultural diversity in humans and in ETs too:

Magic-related disability with no magical cure:

The Defectives by Burgandi Rakoska?

Somebody turning into a tree:

People working together to deal with a natural disaster:

Small unit tactics with psychic / magical powers:

Intersex person enjoys doing something:

Long distance relationship with at least one migrant character:

Plot related to environmentalism:

Sunvault solarpunk anthology

Realistic learning disabilities:

Kink with no sex:

Protagonist undecided about gender:

Ownvoices marginalized (post-)cyberpunk protagonist:

I think several Melissa Scott books might qualify?

Nearly Roadkill by Caitlin Sullivan & Kate Bornstein

Secondary-world slice-of-life:

I am not sure if Mindtouch by M.C.A. Hogarth is this?

Nonwestern narrative structure:

Realistic code-switching:

Trans couple in established relationship:

Ownvoices speculative spirituality:

Cephalopods (not just octopuses):

Multiply marginalized protagonist on a spaceship:

Space story examining colonialist SF tropes:

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee might be this?

Person has interacting disabilities / chronic illnesses:

Major political transition concurrent to story:

Technology doesn’t fix all health issues in the future:

An Oath of Dogs by Wendy N. Wagner – I am reading this right now

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz?

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[Graphic novel] Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

I have been trying to make an “Eastern European #ownvoices YA in English” list, because I’m growing weary of the often baffling narratives about the region that American authors produce.

I have also been wondering if I should just do “YA by Eastern European authors,” period, because lately I’ve read some great YA that I thought would be cool to include even though it has nothing to do with the region. (Reviews coming soon!) But the inspiration for listmaking was more along the lines of bad American stereotypes about Eastern Europe. I might end up doing both, which also means more reviews 🙂

This book was recommended to me on Twitter – thank you very much! It wasn’t altogether a success for me, but I’ve also already read ones that were, so if you keep on reading, more reviews will eventually emerge 🙂 (G-d willing, but I’m working on it.)

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. First Second, 2011.

Anya's Ghost coverAnya struggles with her very Russian mom who wants her to go to Orthodox church, her classmates and their relationship drama, her weight, and the fact that she dropped into a well and found a ghost at the bottom. I really wanted to love this YA horror graphic novel – there are extremely few immigrant narratives from my region in English-language YA – but ultimately neither the characterization nor the plot clicked for me.

The big climactic point in the plot felt out of character (if you’ve read the book: for the ghost, specifically) and I felt like the horror elements were squished together in roughly the last third of the book, about 60 pages. Anya’s Ghost read as if it had been intended to be a longer book originally. The teen drama parts in the beginning and the later horror parts also didn’t cohere all that well. I felt it was a bit of a cop-out to have a character vanish for a large chunk of the narrative due to a not so huge disagreement – though the disagreement felt very real and I have seen the same dynamic between Eastern European immigrants and working-class white people. But the character’s presence would have made the entire story go very differently. Some other characters who were introduced for the purposes of teen drama dropped out of the plot altogether in the horror segments, and did not resurface during the resolution either.

Be prepared the protagonist says quite a few awful things, especially in the beginning (including a totally random anti-trans remark) and the main story arc is a kind of learning experience for her. (Though not about the random anti-trans remark, that goes uncontested; just in general.) Also, I know fat-shaming is a huge part of pretty much every Eastern European culture, and it definitely interacts with being a migrant, but I felt this topic could either have used more elaboration / examination, or be left out altogether, rather than just tossed into the story every now and then. It was interesting to me that her mom, who usually is the source of fat-shaming in many families, was actually trying to counterbalance Anya’s internalized negative feelings and argue against them – which didn’t work for Anya because of the classic tension between the unassimilated, very “foreign” parents and the offspring trying hard to assimilate and not be harassed. (The book did try to push back against this trope a little bit, but mostly when it came to the more or less assimilated kids, and not so much in relation to parents and children.)

The art was fine and the faces were very expressive, which matched the storytelling and definitely added depth. I also liked the general concept behind the plot – hard to explain without a spoiler – and that Anya was allowed to be imperfect. There was enough here that I liked that I would definitely read more from the author, even if this particular book wasn’t such a success for me personally.

Source of the book: Lawrence Public Library. I don’t know the author personally.


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Two great SHORT reads by trans men authors!

I recently chanced upon some cool #ownvoices reads by trans men authors that you can finish quickly, so I thought they could both go in the same post. One is available online and the other you can buy in book format (but it’s only 124 pages). Good reading!

I will be away for Jewish New Year, but I wanted to make sure you got some reading recommendations in the meanwhile 🙂

Look Who’s Morphing by Tom Cho. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014.

Look Who's Morphing coverThis is a speculative/surrealist/subversive short story collection with most stories flash length (under 1000 words). Tom Cho takes media tropes and totally goes to town with them, from Godzilla to the Sound of Music. This sounds like pure wacky fun, but it actually also reflects on migranthood and being Chinese-Australian very poignantly. There is also a lot of literal shapeshifting, which is one topic that trans authors can do in a really particular and awesome way, I feel, even when it is not specifically about transness. The viewpoint is simply different.

I especially liked the very short and very intense stories, and the title piece. There is also a longer story (“Cock Rock”) at the end of the anthology, which I felt was a bit overlong for what it offered – but the flash stories simply sparkled. I wish I would have been aware of this anthology previously so that I could have promoted it even more.

This book was released originally in Australia, and there is also a North American reprint by the Canadian publisher Arsenal Pulp Press, who have published a lot of really groundbreaking trans writing – you might also be interested in my review of even this page is white by Vivek Shraya.

Source of the book: Bought with my own money, recommended by Corey Alexander (thank you!). I don’t know the author personally (sadly!)

Buy the book:

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara. Uncanny, 2017.

This is a contemporary fantasy vampire novelette from Uncanny Magazine – yes, this means you can read it online right now.Uncanny issue coverI very much appreciated how this story explored the nonconsensual elements of the vampire theme carefully, while also being very much an #ownvoices portrayal of trans masculinity. It reminded me of Nevada in the sense that it was not necessarily written for a cis audience, and a cis audience might not even get some key moments… though I did feel that some parts were very carefully calibrated to get readers to connect the dots, which is excellent.This is very much not a fluffy story – it mentions dysphoria, body changes causing dysphoria, lots of blood, nonconsensual vampirism, anti-trans sentiments from a cis gay man, fairly explicit sex, medical service denial, death (I mean it is a vampire story!) so please tread carefully. But I personally felt all these elements were discussed in a thoughtful way. I’d read more in this continuity!

Source of the story: It’s free online. I have known the author for a few years and he also reprinted one of my stories.


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