I n celebration of the watershed 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York, US, that marked the beginning of the acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community in American society, Pride Month is celebrated every year in June. It remembers the repression and bloodshed of the community and, more importantly, love in all its forms. The Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan was the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the US and marked the last Sunday of June as Gay Pride Day. The month sees uplifting and colourful parades, joyous festivals, parties and everything happy and gay! Literature has been the largest medium for artists, poets and writers to celebrate what’s queer in our society and do so with strong emotions and in the right language. So here is a list of books in celebration of the community and Pride traditions.
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
The plot of the book is plucked from Highsmith’s own life and it has been later adapted into the 2015 Todd Haynes film, Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The 1952 romance novel that became a cult classic is a lesbian love story and is often touted as ‘the novel of a love that society forbids’. It tells a dramatic story of Therese Belivet, a stage designer getting claustrophobic in a departmental store job, and just as she’s ‘flung out of space’, she happens to meet Carol Aird, who leads to a transformation and an epiphany in Therese’s life. They fall in love at a time when only heteronormative relationships were acceptable to broader society and they were completely ensnared by these norms. It’s a delightful read, depicting what’s often felt and experienced by the community even now.
Lihaaf by Ismat Chugtai
This 1942 Urdu short story took the world by storm and stirred up a controversy. First published in the Urdu journal Adab-i-Latif, it put Ismat under an obscenity trial and she had to defend herself in Lahore court. The plot attacks social structures and freely expresses sexuality. The story is from the memory of an anonymous narrator, who’s suddenly hit with everything she had witnessed as a child while covering herself with a quilt on a chilly winter night. Once when the narrator’s mother went to Agra, she was left at her mother’s adopted sister’s house, who was called Begum Jaan. Well, Begum Jaan had an unfulfilled marriage and she unleashed all her dissatisfaction into the massage sessions with Rabbu, who was just a little girl and quite underage to engage in anything sexual. The narrator woke up to the quilt shaking one night and, to the readers, it was quite obvious what was happening. However inappropriate a stance it might have been on Begum Jaan’s part, the short read by Ismat Chugtai spoke volumes on claiming sexuality, broke norms and still stands as one of the boldest works of all time.
The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
The epistolary novel written in 1982 is a Pulitzer Prize winner for the remarkable work captured in the lines of the books. Documentation of Celie’s trauma (an Afro-American raised in rural isolation in Georgia), her letters to God, the abuse she was subjected to, and the slow unfurling of her sexuality and claiming of her identity are captured so well in this novel that it makes for a gripping read. With radical feminism comes the concept of lesbianism; it is very hard to take it out of the picture. So, the book follows that path. Celie, after being abused quite badly and going through miscarriages and rape, starts growing and formulating her own identity, which she hadn’t recognised earlier. She goes ahead and builds relationships with other coloured women (who’ve also dealt with similar oppression). Her significant relationship with Shug Avery was one of the most liberating moments of Celie’s life and you’d be indefinitely drawn to reading it until the very last line. This Pride Month, pick up a copy of The Colour Purple if you don’t want to miss out on this amazing creation.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
The 1956 novel is set in Paris and talks about a white American expatriate, David, who finds himself in a battle between desire and conventional morality. While reminiscing about his childhood, he discovers his sexual orientation. He recalls his first sexual encounter with a man, a boy from Brooklyn named Joey, whom he discarded after being overwhelmed by his need to reclaim his masculinity. It didn’t stop there. A sexual encounter with a fellow soldier after joining the army and many more followed. However, he did propose marriage to Hella, but stumbled upon Giovanni (a handsome Italian immigrant) and got sexually attracted to him. Giovanni is murdered. Cut to the present, David looks into the mirror and finally identifies that he’s attracted to the same sex.
Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
If you didn’t watch Timothée Chalamet and die a little inside with a major crush, then you’ve missed out on something great. The novel-turned-film is a beautiful love story blossoming between young Elio and his father’s graduate student assistant, Oliver, set in the modern Italian countryside. Their summer romance is in full bloom, making this 2018 read taste as sweet as honey. The romance unfurling at Elio’s parents’ cliffside mansion in the Italian Riveria is an unforgettable one.