By Niina Bailey, Alice Reynolds and Rob Tomlinson
Pride month is the best time to read LGBTQIA+ books and in honour of June being Pride month and this being The Publishing Post’s Pride issue, we wanted to highlight and recommend three translated books that feature LGBTQIA+ themes in some way. We hope you find something new to read for this Pride month. Enjoy!
Fair Play by Tove Jansson. Translated by Thomas Teal. Published by Sort of Books in 2007.
Fair Play follows Mari and Jonna, a writer and an artist, and their relationship. The story is told in a series of vignettes, which describe the life the two women share and their love for each other. They live in separate studios at opposite ends of an apartment building, which are connected by an attic corridor. During the summers, Mari and Jonna share a small cabin on a remote island.
This setup is based on Tove Jansson’s own life and her relationship with artist Tuulikki Pietilä who she was with for over forty years. Like Mari and Jonna, they lived in separate flats which were connected, and they spent their summers on a secluded island, Klovharu in the Gulf of Finland.
Fair Play is not a dramatic love story. Instead, it is a depiction of a healthy relationship between two women who live a quiet life together. They understand each other and their creative process and what the other needs. Interspersed within the book are thoughts on creation and art as both women work on their craft. Work and love were what mattered most to Jansson in her life, and this shines through in the novel. Ali Smith, who wrote the introduction for the English translation, writes in the introduction to “expect something philosophically calm – and discreetly radical.” Even though the book was originally written almost forty years ago, this still feels relevant today.
The Tree and the Vine by Dola de Jong. Translated from Dutch by Ilona Kinzer 1961 and Kristen Gehrman 2020. Published by Transit Books in 2020.
First published in 1954 in the Netherlands, Dola de Jong’s The Tree and the Vine was a groundbreaking work in its time for its frank and sensitive depiction of the love between two women. Dola de Jong was born in Amsterdam to a Jewish father and a German mother, and worked as a dancer and a reporter before she fled the country in 1940, eventually immigrating to the United States. Her book The Field won the City of Amsterdam Literature Prize in 1947.
Set in Amsterdam in the 1930s, the novel describes the story of two women who battle not only the taboo on lesbian love but also the threat of persecution in years following up to the Nazi Occupation in the Netherlands. The pair are also vastly different people: Erica is a reckless young journalist, pursuing passionate but abusive affairs with different women, while Bea, a reserved secretary, grows increasingly obsessed with Erica, yet denial and shame keep her from recognizing her attraction. Only Bea’s discovery that Erica is half-Jewish and a member of the Dutch resistance – and thus in danger – brings her closer to accepting her own feelings. The sexual and political juxtaposition between suppression and desire makes this a forceful novel to explore complex relationships which feel pertinent even today.
Sonnets of Dark Love – The Tamarit Divan by Federico Garcia Lorca. Translated by Jane Duran and Gloria Garcia Lorca 2017. Published by Enitharmon Editions in 2017.
Written in 1934 but unread until 1983, Sonnets of Dark Love is Lorca’s most explicitly homosexual work, offering an insight into the desires, pains, and romantic martyrdom of one of Spanish literature’s most venerated figures. Images of blood, ecstasy, desire, and violence, permeate the text, as the poet explores his struggles with unfulfilled passions, and, in this edition, the Sonnets are published alongside The Tamarit Divan, later poems that also meditate on the frustrations of impossible love. Enitharmon Editions presents both these collections in a beautiful face-to-face translation that allows the English-speaking reader to hear the melodious cadences of the poems in the original Spanish.
Lorca’s life and reputation were marked by homophobia. Murdered for his sexuality and his political views at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War by nationalist militia, he suffered a second death as his work was banned in Spain until 1953 and remained censored until the end of the dictatorship in the 1970s. His sexuality was often meticulously avoided in analyses of work, even after the transition to democracy, as Spanish society struggled to accept that the luminary of twentieth-century drama and poetry was gay. As a result, this collection, with its open explorations of love, eroticism, and romantic pain, is crucial to recentre the sexuality of Spain’s leading poet, a man that suffered persecution in life for his homosexuality.