When we discuss Queer literature in the book blogging community, we seldom discuss non-western narratives. There are many reasons why we don’t. It could be because it’s easier to relate to the stories of our own communities and cultures rather than foreign ones. Or it could simply be because non-western stories are difficult to find or aren’t being written at the same rate as western ones, so we just aren’t aware of them. Whatever the reason, I have noticed this glaring omission in the book blogging community and in my own reading. So naturally, I sought books to fill the gaps.
The only LGBT narratives I’ve read that aren’t set in North America or Europe are Under The Udala Trees and Guapa. That’s it. For the entirety of my life as a reader. Fortunately, Darkowaa and Osondu both recommended Fairy Tales for Lost Children in their blogs with glowing reviews. I knew I had to read this collection of short stories because it had never crossed my mind that I should read a story about gay, lesbian, and transgender Somalis living in Africa and abroad. This is how I operate — when I see a gap in my reading history, I immediately look for books to fill it. I understand that not everyone thinks this way about their reading habits, but for me it has proven to be immensely rewarding and I have discovered some of my favorite stories and authors. I highly recommend it!
This short story collection is only 150 pages, but the stories are powerful, memorable, and warrant a reread once you’re done. Each one is about gay, lesbian, or transgender Somalis living in Somalia, Kenya, or England. Somalia has had a troubled history of political turmoil, violence, and famine, so many of people we follow are refugees trying to build a life outside of their homeland. Many of the stories are tragic, but some are hopeful, and all of them are honest and relevant.
I’ll briefly discuss a few of my favorites and couple them with the gorgeous illustration paired with each story.
If I Were A Dance – A lyrical story about two dancers, Anas and Narciso, a couple who had a painful falling out but must perform one last time, together, before exiting each other’s lives completely. Diriye Osman makes several references to music in this story, specifically from Meshell Ndegeocello’s music, so I recommend finding these songs on YouTube and playing them as Anas and Narciso perform for extra immersion. The performance was a very personal reenactment of the beginning and end of their relationship, which is a very strange subject for a dance routine. But it works beautifully and Anas uses this opportunity to rewrite the way their story ended.
Your Silence Will Not Protect You – This one is about a young man named Diriye, who was his parent’s favored child and was allowed to do anything he wanted. Upon coming out as gay, however, his parents reject and disown him. In London, Diriye tries to carve a life for himself, but is deeply depressed and in pain from the fallout of the rejection. The story as a whole is not a happy or optimistic, but ends on a strong note by asserting the message to stand your ground and love yourself even when your community refuses to acknowledge your humanity. Given that the author’s first name is also Diriye, I take that to mean that this story was autobiographical in nature, which makes it even more powerful and personal.
The Other (Wo)Man – The longest story in the collection and also the most interesting, anxiety-inducing, and nuanced of them all. It follows Yassin, a twenty-two year old Somali living in London seeking the intimacy of dating and relationships. He meets Jude, a married British-Jamaican man, on a gay dating app and decides to meet him and go on a date. Over time, Yassin learns that Jude is attracted to men who wear women’s clothes and this freaks him out! I immediately took Yassin’s side. He was troubled by Jude fetishizing men in drag and effeminacy because he thought Jude wanted to see him as a woman. But sexuality is more complex than that and I appreciated how this story used Yassin’s knee-jerk rejection of the idea to teach him about his developing sexual identity. Some people may take issue with this story in particular, but it was my personal favorite because it was bold and provided a nuanced depiction of one man’s evolving sexual identity.
The other 8 stories are also excellent and written with honesty and respect for the communities they represent. If you regularly read LGBT fiction, I urge to read Fairytales for Lost Children with an open mind and a willingness to explore nontraditional and non-western narratives. Also, please note that this collection includes stories that are sexually explicit. I personally thought the explicit content was relevant and realistic, given the subject matter of some of the stories, but others may not agree. The fact that these stories, written by a gay Somali, exist is a bold and powerful statement, so it is important to read them without judgment and allow the voices of the men and women who are traditionally silenced to ring loudly and fearlessly.
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