My Germany: A Jewish Writer
Returns to the World His Parents Escaped
by Lev Raphael
Terrace Books (Univ of Wisconsin Press).
210 pages, $26.95
In My Germany, as in Dancing on Tisha B’Av (1990) and Writing a Jewish Life (2005), Lev Raphael brings together Jewish and gay themes. The powerful story of Raphael’s parents’ suffering as concentration camp prisoners and slave laborers under the Nazis, the impact of their traumas on his own childhood, and his eventual reconciliation with Germany and present-day Germans predominate, but Raphael also tells of how he comes to accept his homosexuality and find love and domestic happiness with Gershen Kaufman, his partner of many years. Raphael grew up in a house haunted by the horrible specter of the Nazis. “Where was our family? Why were we so alone? Why did my father have nightmares?” The answer to all such questions was, “The Germans, the Germans, the Germans.” Although the Raphael household was intensely Jewish through memory of the past, they did not practice Judaism and the sons were not circumcised. The Germans had identified many men as being Jewish because they were circumcised, and his parents feared that another Hitler might arise. Raphael feels as an adolescent that he carried a double shame, that of being both Jewish and gay. As a grown man, he plunged into the religion his parents had denied him, becoming Orthodox and having a bar mitzvah. Being able to embrace his Judaism, Raphael suggests, helped him to embrace his homosexuality as well. The dual acknowledgment freed him to be a writer of books about gay Jews. Three trips to Germany, in which he realizes that his parents’ Germany is not the Germany of today, have freed him further, Raphael says, to move on to other topics.
The Torturer’s Wife
by Thomas Glave
City Lights. 240 pages, $15.95 (paper)
Thomas Glave has emerged as a unique author within GLBT letters, and his latest collection of short stories, The Torturer’s Wife, stands to solidify his reputation. Indeed, while many of the books marketed to a gay readership rely on facile themes, Glave bravely defies the usual commercial interests by dealing with difficult subjects clothed in experimental prose. While all of the stories are characterized by graphic imagery that gnaws at our complacent consciousness, they broach a kaleidoscope of situations, from interracial gay love to the horrors of war. Two of my favorites are the title story, “The Torturer’s Wife,” and the last piece, titled “Out There.” In the former, a female character who remains nameless discovers that her husband, a prominent politician, is involved in gruesome torture practices. His victims visit her dreams and the woman’s garden is peppered with body parts, which she insists need to be swept away. The latter story is a subtle study of repressed gay love in Jamaica and the sad consequences of a homophobic society that oppresses part of its population. It should be noted here that Thomas Glave confronted the Jamaican government for the homophobic remarks pronounced by Prime Minister Bruce Golding during the Calabash Literary Festival of 2008 held in the Caribbean island. His style, which can be described as a sort of dystopian magical realism, is as bold as his political audacity, demonstrating the synergy between activism and literary form. His prose combines a mesmerizing lyricism with ellipses and silences. Readers of this collection may be haunted by the ghastly images that color his nightmares, the rays of hope that rise on a horizon of otherwise apocalyptic scenarios.
Fool For Love
Edited by Timothy J. Lambert
and R. D. Cochrane
Cleis Press. 265 pages, $14.95 (paper)
Romance is like comedy: what makes one person laugh or melts someone’s heart can leave someone else stony-faced and unmelted. Fool For Love is an anthology of sixteen stories, each of which may strike different readers in different ways. Contributors include established authors such as Andrew Holleran and Felice Picano as well as many new writers. Among the latter, Nathan Burgoine’s entry, “Heart,” stands out as effective in its poignancy. Some of the best stories concern a gay man who, wary of love, takes a chance on a guy he lusts after from afar. The first story, David Puterbaugh’s “Thai Angel,” is sweet, and the characters, while perhaps a bit broadly drawn, are engaging. As the hero Kama goes after the possible man of his dreams, there is a nice dramatic tension before a satisfying, though slightly obvious, conclusion. A few stories feature teenagers, always prone to be fools in love. “Like No One’s Watching Us,” by John Hemlin and “Party Planning,” by Rob Williams, both capture the awkwardness of high school romance and the fear of unreciprocated desire. This fear extends to some adults in Fool For Love, such as Chris, the protagonist in Brandon M. Long’s strong, engaging entry, “A View.” Inevitably, perhaps, there are several entries that are less successful in their forays into the romance genre. Greg Herren’s “Everyone Says I’ll Forget in Time” is a sensitive tale of a man coping with the loss of his lover and preparing to date again, but it seems out of place here. Likewise, John H. Roush’s comic entry, “Angels What You Must Hear On High,” a catalog of a dead man’s lovers, comes off as silly and superficial in this context. Then again, someone else might have a very different reaction.
Gary M. Kramer
Tal Como Somos
Distributed by Films Media Group
Many HIV prevention campaigns have failed to address a root issue that interferes with prevention: homophobia. People’s negative attitudes toward the gay community and its association with hiv/aids contributes to the perpetuation of GLBT oppression, harms HIV prevention efforts, and reduces the quality of life for people living with hiv/aids. Tal Como Somos (Just As We Are) is a bilingual documentary that focuses intimately on the lives of six gay, bisexual, or transgendered Latinos. This brave and honest documentary sets out to change people’s attitudes by exposing them to the real-life struggle for love and acceptance of their gay friends and family members. Dr. Jesus Ramirez-Valles, Professor of Public Health at the University of Illinois-Chicago, the production team, and the six individuals and their families confront the root cause of homophobia. This film also sets out to reduce the stigma of AIDS and thus improve HIV prevention efforts. It has been screened at many film festivals, shown to students in public schools, and used in various professional settings, proving itself an invaluable educational tool for changing people’s attitudes. The film is a heart-warming piece that that will stir your emotions and thoughts. The trailer can be viewed on youtube.com by searching “Tal Como Somos,” and the full length film is currently being distributed by ffh.films.com.
Brett E. Avila