Hasan Namir was born in Iraq in 1987. He is the award-winning author of God in Pink, which won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Fiction and was chosen as one of the Top 100 Books of 2015 by The Globe and Mail. His latest book is the poetry collection War / Torn, which is also the theme of this recommended reading list.
These books deal with war/torn identities in which the protagonist or the narrator of the poetic voice struggles to reconcile a sense of self. These books inspired me as their characters went through journeys of self-discovery and at times struggled to find their inner voices. This list is a mix of fiction, poetry and short stories all with hyphenated characters and voices that are deeply moving. And what I mean by hyphenated is that the characters all struggle with conflicting characteristics, identities and surroundings.
Bad Endings, by Carleigh Baker
Carleigh’s story collection isn’t necessarily plot-heavy, but more character-driven and portraying realistic experiences. The stories’ endings are sometimes intentionally abrupt and imperfect, which mirrors the characters’ experiences as they struggle to come to terms with themselves and the men they surround themselves with. Without being over-sentimental, Carleigh’s characters are drawn out through brilliant dialogue. The stories are like mini fictional documentaries.
Don’t Tell Me What to Do, by Dina Del Bucchia
Dina’s characters are like people we encounter in daily life. Her writing style is sincere and brings out humor and warmth at the same time. This book is brilliantly written with characters we can all relate to who all want more than what they have.
Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person, by Daniel Zomparelli
With Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person, Daniel reinvents the short story genre so it feels like poetry written in short story format. The characters here are relatable, dealing with anxiety, depression and they spoke volumes to me, plus Daniel has this particular way of bringing warmth to dark comedic characters who are fragmented and searching for fulfillment.
Jonny Appleseed, by Joshua Whitehead
This was an excellent book that was very interesting because it is non-linear and moves back and forth between past and present. The book is hyphenated stylistically to highlight the title character’s two-spirit cultural and sexual identity. Jonny Appleseed is a real page-turner that is also beautifully written.
Little Fish, by Casey Plett
When I began reading the book, I was immediately drawn to the characters and their complexity. The writing is raw and hit my guts—in an amazing way, of course. The writing is poetic and Wendy is one of the most fascinating and incredible characters. Casey’s dialogue is crisp, real and powerful.
Port of Being, by Shazia Hafiz Ramji
Shazia is an incredible poet and her debut book is sublime. The reader’s role is like a voyeur, and to read is to question things, including personal and political identities which are explored here through form and word choices. At times, the poetic voice seems to be lost, searching for answers. Relatable, this is poetry at its finest and is so timely.
Scarborough, by Catherine Hernandez
With Scarborough, Catherine brilliantly intertwines multiple characters of different backgrounds and races, representing the multi-colored communities of the title city. I had all the feels while reading it as the characters struggle with their identities in ways that seemed so real. Bing, Hina, Winsum, Sylvie, Victor and Laura are all developed beautifully and I am happy to learn this book is being made into a movie.
Sodom Road Exit, by Amber Dawn
Amber Dawn’s novel has a very complex protagonist. Starla Mia Martin has a lot to deal with as she confronts her future and her past, and from the beginning I knew she was a unique character, dealing with her own personal traumas and also with her mother, who is quite the character herself. I enjoyed the mix of the supernatural and the complex queer story very much. It was quite the roller-coaster ride!
Stubble Burn, by David Ly
David Ly’s chapbook is Stubble Burn, which I just finished reading yesterday. The poetry is crisp, honest and complex. I read it in one sitting and was reflecting on each poem. I related to it because when I was in the dating game, I was on Grindr too and I used to get rejections because I wasn’t their type, etc. These poems illustrate identity struggles and remind us that words are more powerful than the sword: they can hurt but can also change the way we see things in ourselves.
The Clothesline Swing, by Ahmad Danny Ramadan
Ahmad Danny Ramadan’s poetic and eloquent novel highlights the Hakawati’s (storyteller's) war/torn stories of family and conflicted identities. The characters are wonderfully touching, written with so much heart, combining imagery to create new interpretations of experiences and struggles. The book takes the reader on a journey through the past, the present and also to various places in the world.
Hasan Namir's debut collection of poetry, War / Torn, is a brazen and lyrical interrogation of religion and masculinity—the performance and sense of belonging they delineate and draw together. Namir summons prayer, violence, and the sensuality of love, revisiting tenets of Islam and dictates of war to break the barriers between the profane and the sacred.
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