Dec 25, 2014

The Outcasts of Christmas and the Winter Solstice

A Blessed Winter Solstice celebration for all you holy pagans out there, followers of Attis and Dionysus, both of Greece; Mithra of Persia; Salivahana of Bermuda; Odin of Scandinavia; Crite of Chaldez; Thammuz of Syria; Addad of Assyria, and Beddru of Japan. (All of these male deities celebrate their birthdays on December 25th).
For all of you Christian sinners out there (like me), Feliz Navidad! A blessed day in honor of the Crucified Savior, born in a shelter for animals outside the inn. 

To remind us that Jesu was born an outcast, here is a haunting photo of a Romany family being investigated by police in Romania. 

No room for Jesus in the Inn of respectable society. But the Roma would have taken Him in.

Today is a day to celebrate the inclusion of all outcasts in the warmth of our Divine Mother/Father's familial embrace. All are welcome. 

(thank you, Chris Mac, from The Scarecrow Blog)

Dec 10, 2014

Barracuda - a Young Gay Teen Novel

A significant contribution to gay teen literature, but not without its exasperating flaws.

I had to struggle to finish this book, but I persevered to the end because I respected the author's intentions and his deliberate efforts to integrate the gay sexuality of his central character into the narrative without making it a central issue. We are still in dire need of gay fictional treatments of the difficulties of coming out and dealing with homophobia and gay bashing - witness the continuing spate of young gay teen suicides or the most recent draconian legal attacks on gay people in Uganda. Nonetheless, there is a countervailing need to see gay characters integrated into quite  ordinary life stories, dealing with the commonplace conflicts and challenges of simply being human. Barracuda fits into this latter category. Never once is the sexuality of his central character made an issue in his ongoing struggles with profound shame, inferiority, humiliation and the concomitant explosions of rage and violence that result. This is a story of a young teen male struggling with a profound insecurity which he seeks to heal by striving to be an Olympic level swimmer. When he fails miserably at his attempts, his own inner world collapses, and he is filled with rage and fury, which he seeks to exorcise throughout the remainder of the book. I could never quite get a handle on the ultimate source of his profound emptiness - other than some sketches of his difficult relationship with his father, and his humiliation at being a wog (of  Greek ancestry) on scholarship among his upper class peers and the 'golden boys' of his school swimming team. Nonetheless, while it was refreshing that his sexuality was never made a central issue, this omission was very strange in a character dealing with profound humiliation and shame. Had it been another set of conflicts, it would have been understandable. But for this reader, it didn't quite work. It was a clever attempt, however, on the part of Christos Tsiolkas. Why not present a gay character who has deep conflicts of inferiority and shame quite unrelated to his 'alternative' sexuality - which he simply accepts as an unremarkable part of his nature and not a contributing factor to his psychic dilemma. There is one very refreshing, bold 'coming out' admission on the part of Christ to his cousin that is not a 'coming out' at all, simply an admission that, just as his cousin misses contacts with girls, Chris misses sexual contact with males. And that is that.

My problem with the book, which other readers share, is that the focus on Chris' inner turmoil is so relentless, repetitive and intense it eventually wears the reader down. It is simply repeated again and again and again, and the end result is to make the character - for much, but not all of the book - a very unattractive person to be with.

What I found to be a great narrative strength, however, is the alternating time spans - covering four phases in the young man's life, from the traumatic early teens, through young adulthood with a male partner. We are switched from one to another and back again, for no readily apparent reason, but this worked for me. Other readers have stated they would have preferred to have grown along with the character. But I couldn't have stood his constant raging and fuming without some respite and without the very clear insight the future flash forwards provide us of a young man who eventually through many painful trials manages to rescue himself from his debilitating neurosis. I thought it was a fascinating look at the way a character can, quite simply, grow up, and it added to the mystery of human development. There were also some remarkable surprises in these flash forwards (no spoilers here).

Lastly, the physicality of the character - which some more genteel readers found offensive - I found refreshing, because it grounded the character in the very real gritty experience of the average teenage boy, acutely conscious of the workings of his body, including pissing, shitting, farting, ejaculating. The incidents in which these bodily functions were described were very sparse and few and far between, just enough to give a believable sense of the sensitivities of an ordinary adolescent. This is a part of being human and part of the 'shame' all of us must come to accept about being ensconced in an animal body. Kudos to Tsiolkas for not shirking from it.

In the end, this is a tortuous, arduous journey of redemption, but I found the end result to be believable and true. I just wish it hadn't been so exhausting to get there.

Dec 7, 2014

Religion of the Gypsies

I am very pleased that my first book review at Crime Scene Reviews is the sweeping historical saga, Dosha, Flight of the Russian Gypsies, by Sonia Meyer (Author Interview here) which I’ve selected from Book Club Reading List. 
This deeply DoshaCover_Page_1moving account of the tragic plight of Russian Romany gypsies is an appropriate choice for this site because it deals with a horrific crime of state against a persecuted minority, the Romany. This event was all the more poignant because in the past Russia was the one European country that most welcomed, appreciated and loved its Gypsy communities. They were loved for their unique music and dance, their rich culture, the freedom of their lives, and their passionate loyalty to one another. Gypsies felt safe in Russia for centuries. Sadly, after 1956, this protective haven was destroyed and the Romany were forced to flee for their lives, including many who had fought for Russia as loyal partisans in World Word II. Those who could not escape were herded into starvation camps in Siberia and left to die.
In 1956 – one year after Dosha’s mother, Azra, daughter of the king of thousands of traveling Lovara, had died -the Red net began, without warning, to entrap nomadic Gypsies into the grinding mill of Soviet Standardization.
However, Sonia Meyer has not simply written an historical tract or a sociological essay. She has crafted a richly detailed, deeply moving fictional account of Gypsy life, both within the forests and plains of Russia and during their flight to freedom in the West.  She has personalized the tragedy of an entire people by taking us into the lived experience of a remarkable young Gypsy girl,  Dosha, granddaughter of Khantchi,  the King of her Lovara tribe.  We follow Dosha through a series of harrowing adventures as she seeks to escape to freedom in the West, together with her beloved stallion Rus. For Dosha is a highly gifted rider of horses, and through the training of her father, she is transformed into a master of the horse. This mastery, together with her magnificent stallion,  will catch the eye of Russian agents recruiting for the renowned Leningrad dressage team. Because of this fortuitous event, Dosha will discover her pathway to freedom, and map out a path of escape for the rest of her tribe.
Read the full review here at Crime Scene Reviews