Translated LGBTQIA+ Books
By Niina Bailey, Oisin Harris, Toby Smollet and Kate Williams
There has been an increase in books about LGBTQIA+ characters in recent years in the English-speaking world and that is also the case with translated books. In honour of June being Pride Month and this being The Publishing Post’s Pride issue, we wanted to highlight and recommend you some translated LGBTQIA+ books. There are many translated LGBTQIA+ books to discover, from a variety of different languages and cultures. In this issue, we recommend three of our favourites. We hope you find some new books to read and enjoy!
Lie With Me by Philippe Besson. Translated by Molly Ringwald. Published by Penguin in 2019.
Lie With Me is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story. Written by the critically acclaimed French writer, Philippe Besson reflects on his own experiences as a gay teenager during the 1980s.
Phillippe, a successful author, is struck by déjà vu when he spots a man outside his hotel in Bordeaux who resembles his first love, Thomas. What follows is a beautiful and moving account of their love story, how they met, and their secret relationship. Taking place during the height of the AIDS epidemic, a time when society was much more hostile towards LGBTQIA+ relationships than it is today, the writer interweaves comments on homophobia, shame, and fear into the narrative, as well as the tragedy of having to hide who you love. By revisiting his teenage years in almost a confessional tone, the novel acts as a kind of catharsis for the author as he finally comes to terms with his past and sets out to discover what became of Thomas.
Besson’s writing is addictive and rich in evocative descriptions which capture the highs and lows of the author’s emotions and uses atmospheric imagery to describe the setting in rural Southern France. It is a stunning tribute to the author’s adolescent relationship, and a thoughtful meditation on the lifelong influence of this first love.
Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park. Translated by Anton Hur. Published by Tilted Axis Press 2021.
Park’s novel charts the love life of a gay man from his student-dorm days into his thirties. We follow our protagonist as he navigates Seoul’s gay dating scene, his waxing and waning friendships and the intricacies of class dynamics and family mores in contemporary South Korea.
The novel’s protagonist, which is essentially an artistic rendering of Park’s experiences, is possessed of acerbic wit, disarming charm and, at times, a very moving ability to self-reflect on the situations he ends up in by following his heart and acting on impulse.
Since this novel is originally comprised of four interconnected short stories, we move through each section as it focuses on a specific point or significant relationship in Park’s life: his best friend, a happy go lucky Jaehee who later settles down as a respectable woman; an older, cerebral, anti-American boyfriend; Park’s mother who is dying of cancer; and a man who may well be the love of Park’s life.
Anton Hur’s translation vividly captures the deliriums, follies and inner peace moments that befall us all when falling in love. This novel encapsulates good times but also very poignant dissections on the loneliness and alienation engendered by heartbreak, gender normativity, gender performance and how, even in a country with as fairly a liberal LGBTQIA+ outlook as South Korea, the queer experience is fraught with exclusion. It is invigoratingly refreshing to see such a bold voice as Park’s added to a growing canon of global LGBTQIA+ literature!
The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza. Translated by Sarah Booker. Published by Feminist Press in 2017.
LGBTQIA+ literature often concerns itself with identity and bodies, and few novels broach the topic as elegantly and powerfully as Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Iliac Crest.
Set in between two distinct cities, “North City” and “South City,” our protagonist sits in the middle, working at a hospital where patients never recover, “a cemetery with open tombs.” The appearance of two women – one a stranger, the other an ex-lover – begins a series of events that leads to a grand conspiracy revolving around Amparo Dávila and her imposters.
As the narrator finds themselves outside of a geographical binary, they also exist outside of any gender binary. The novel’s title refers to a bone in the hip, famously used for identifying the sex of dead bodies. With an exceptionally high rate of femicide in Mexico, this identification immediately becomes something dangerous, but it also contains danger for those whose bodies are constantly in question, who exist outside the boundary, by the ocean.
The Iliac Crest is, unsurprisingly and necessarily, not a light read. The subject matter demands urgency, violence both of and towards language. The exceptional manipulation and destruction of language is expertly and thoughtfully translated by Sarah Booker (including the impenetrable language spoken by a number of characters throughout the novel). This may be a painful read, but it is worth it.