There's something about a well-told family saga that I find so immersive and emotionally moving. It gives not only a powerful sense of people's lineage with aspects of personality, physical traits and heirlooms passed through those generations, but also the movement of time. By following the flow of passing generations in a way that we're unable to locked in the immediacy of our own lives, we're keyed into what might have been, the struggles endured and the sacrifices made so that we can live. Novels can anchor these stories of multiple generations in larger themes about the way society has changed over the years as in Neel Mukherjee's “The Lives of Others” which portrays the impact the Naxalite movement in Bengal had upon one family, Matthew Thomas's “We Are Not Ourselves” which shows the lasting effect of alcoholism in an Irish immigrant family in NYC, Sara Taylor's “The Shore” which shows the transformation of an island over many generations and Joyce Carol Oates' “Bellefleur” which gives a sense of capitalism's connection to the American dream. Now, Yaa Gyasi has created such an inventive well-written debut novel which follows the lineage of two African sisters separated at birth and the history of the slave trade over centuries.

One thing I find so moving about a family saga like this is the way it conveys the tremendous fragility of life and importance of personal choices. Not only do these things affect an individual's destiny, but also the destiny of all the generations which will proceed that person. This shows how the element of chance has such a strong impact upon the world. It's observed at one point “How easy it was for a life to go one way instead of another.” “Homegoing” really begins with a calamitous event which sees two sisters separated – one grows up in a semi-prosperous family where the daughter is promised in marriage to a powerful man and the other belongs to a tribe where she's captured and forced into slavery. It's only through a twist of fate that one thrives and the other suffers horribly. But just because the progeny of these women were born in particular circumstances doesn't mean they are fated to a certain path in life. Through acts of will the subsequent generations shape their own fates and fortunes which consequently heavily influence their own children.

Even though Gyasi follows the individual stories of more than a dozen members of this family through the centuries I was so impressed how it never felt overwhelming or confusing. It's a mark of a great writer that can introduce characters who feel fully formed and already familiar. This is true not only for the family members but also many notable periphery characters including Cudjo (an athletic man with latent same-sex desires) and Esther (a wonderfully garrulous woman who coaxes a historian to express his emotions more). The narrative switches back and forth between each subsequent generation of the sisters' family lines. Many stories build a sense of suspense as you discover the fates of the previous generations during the course of each new family member's story. Key objects such as two stones given to the sisters at the beginning travel through the generational lines as well as songs which are passed down from one child to the next. The initial meaning of an object or song might be lost, but the connection to that family history remains. Certain images also poignantly recur over the stories; it's observed of one early family member Fiifi that “he wore his silence like a golden crown” and then, many generations later, a woman named Willie sings “I shall wear a crown”. These references all add tremendously to the pleasure of the overarching story which the reader is keyed into when the characters are not.

It's fascinating learning particular details about the history of warring tribes (primarily the Asantes and Fantes tribes) in Ghana and how some tribes worked with the white colonialists to capture and sell slaves. A physical colonial castle in Ghana (Cape Coast Castle) which the slave trade was facilitated through becomes a focal point for the families involved in this story. In a way it takes on a fairy tale quality like Bluebeard's castle where some inhabitants live a privileged life unaware or wilfully ignorant of the horrors within the locked subterranean dungeons which hold many captured black people waiting to be sold into slavery in America and the Caribbean. This castle has subsequently become a significant destination where people from the Americas and Britain return to in order to contemplate the significant rift in identity which is colonialism and slavery's legacy. It's a fascinating coincidence that a visit to this same castle also takes place in Zadie Smith's recent novel “Swing Time”. The fact of this historic structure really drives home the reality of the true horrors and long-lasting impact of slavery. Both authors show the quixotic feelings this landmark induces for visitors in contemplating our connection to that history, but also the way it is ultimately unknowable to us.

I had the pleasure of meeting Yaa Gyasi last September at a literary salon in The Savoy.

I had the pleasure of meeting Yaa Gyasi last September at a literary salon in The Savoy.

Later generations meaningfully explore the legacy of slavery in America in particular and its history of racial conflict. When British slavery comes to an end, it's observed how “They would just trade one type of shackles for another, physical ones that wrapped around wrists and ankles for the invisible ones that wrapped around the mind.” Gyasi powerfully shows how this legacy is borne out over generations leading to disproportionate amounts of black people in America experiencing poverty, discrimination and imprisonment. It leads one character to find that “he knew in his body even if he hadn't yet put it together in his mind: in America, the worst thing you could be was a black man. Worse than dead, you were a dead man walking.” The novel portrays the consequences of this state of being and conveys what an important influence the past has upon the present.

Yaa Gyasi is an incredibly powerful storyteller and I found the novel as a whole utterly gripping. However, even though I think the transitions from one story to the next are graceful and each family member is compellingly well-rounded in their own right, I found some stories more effective than others. In particular, the story of one woman's move to Harlem with her light-skinned husband who can pass as white felt too compressed and fast-moving to me. It seemed that this particular story needed an entire novel of its own to fully flesh out the conflicts it explores and the conclusions it comes to. But, on the whole, most of the stories work as single pieces in the grand puzzle of this dynamic and fascinating family. I grew really attached to some characters and wished the novel would stay with them longer, but the momentum of moving from one generation to the next creates a thrilling story in itself making me ultimately glad that Gyasi structured the novel in this way. As already observed from many sources after its much-lauded publication in America last year, “Homegoing” is a tremendously accomplished and intelligent debut.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesYaa Gyasi
6 CommentsPost a comment

Something about the dark month of January makes me enjoy getting caught up in a good thriller. Last year I read Fiona Barton's “The Widow” about a missing child and a mysterious woman hovering near the centre of the case. Emma Flint's debut novel “Little Deaths” is similarly about a case involving missing children and a misunderstood woman, but it's also about so much more than that. Ruth Malone is a 26 year old woman who is separated from her husband and raising two children by herself in Queens during the 1960s. One morning she opens the door to her children's room to discover they've vanished. A police investigation gets under way to discover what happened, but the default assumption is that Ruth is at fault. The police and public don't consider her to be a conventional mother. She enjoys drinking. She's promiscuous. She doesn't seem to give a damn about society's opinion of her. She's condemned even before they interview her. Flint gets at the shocking and sexist way moral judgement supersedes fact in this tragic case.

Ruth's story is based on the case of Alice Crimmins who was wrongly imprisoned after her children were murdered.

Ruth's story is based on the case of Alice Crimmins who was wrongly imprisoned after her children were murdered.

It's fascinating the way the author portrays Ruth's sense of self consciousness. She's scrupulous about her appearance and she feels the process of putting on make up is the routine that would bring Ruth to life in the mirror.” At the same time, she feels an inward sense of disgust and takes fierce possession of her own habitat and sense of being: “The dirt in the apartment was her dirt, it was her sweat, her smell, her looseness, her leaking wet body that had betrayed her.” This harsh sense of criticism for her bodily functions and surroundings reminded me somewhat of Ottessa Moshfegh's protagonist in her novel “Eileen” but Ruth is more accomplished at appearing beautiful and serene despite inwardly breaking down. She's overcome by grief, but because she doesn't express it in conventional ways it makes people extremely suspicious. More than simply subjecting a grieving mother to endless accusatory interviews, the police shockingly interfere with her personal life contacting potential employers to warn them against hiring Ruth and sabotaging her personal relationships.

Although the reader frequently gets flashes of Ruth's perspective, the story is primarily told through Pete Wonicke, an ambitious young reporter. At first I wished the story would focus more exclusively on the complexity of Ruth's view point, but as the story progressed I saw how essential it was to see it from Pete's perspective. He gradually understands how unfairly Ruth is persecuted and fights for her justice. Not only does he get a clearer understanding of her life, but also the lives of other women forced to live on the margins and who've been horrendously mistreated for going against the grain of social norms. This cleverly makes us question our own assumptions about people based on superficial impressions, ask how much our society has changed in the past fifty years and wonder how much our opinions are guided by inherited misogynist notions. It's a forceful story which skilfully builds a feeling of suspense all the way to its gripping conclusion.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesEmma Flint

One of my favourite bookish activities last year was helping to organize a Jean Rhys reading week in September. Together with other readers we read and discussed most of Rhys’ literary output. 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of her most well-known novel “Wide Sargasso Sea” and to commemorate this event the British Library created a small exhibit in their Treasures Gallery displaying some of Rhys’ original manuscripts and other texts and articles related to her writing. I nearly missed out on this exhibit which will close on January 8th but luckily I ran into the writer Catherine Hall who lives around the corner from where I work and she mentioned it to me. So I popped into the British Library to have a look at the display.

It gives an introduction to the context in which Rhys wrote “Wide Sargasso Sea” discussing how she was inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” and the character of Bertha Mason (who Rhys referred to as a “poor Creole lunatic”). Rhys sought to reignite the material of Brontë’s novel and give it new life by writing a prequel to it. In doing so, she created an incredibly daring book which draws upon her childhood in the West Indies and has become a great classic. The British Library possesses several manuscript versions of this novel and has some on display in the cases. Whoever edited and transcribed Rhys’ manuscripts must have had a lot of patience as her handwriting is artful but rather difficult to decipher – especially when she makes copious corrections. However, seeing this reinforced for me what Diana Athill discussed in her introduction to Rhys’ unfinished autobiography “Smile Please” where she commented on Rhys’ perfectionism.

The exhibit also includes information and some manuscripts of Rhys’ earlier novels and stories. Included is a draft of “Voyage in the Dark” which contains more graphic scenes than what appeared in the published novel. It also gives a context to the public’s reception to Jean Rhys – who enjoyed relative success in the 1930s with a string of novels but then stopped publishing and fell into obscurity for nearly two decades until her writing was rediscovered. It also interestingly notes how Rhys become something of a fashion icon in the 1970s as was chronicled in several magazine articles which discuss the rejuvenation of old trends in clothes and feature photos of Rhys modeling. There’s an emphasis on clothes in much of Rhys’ writing as she creatively explored concepts of self consciousness and social appearance in her fiction. It makes me smile to think how Rhys must have enjoyed posing for these photos.

It was a pleasure getting a look at these fascinating documents pertaining to Jean Rhys’ writing process and the reception surround her output. The British Library possesses an incredible amount of literary treasures and I should really pay more attention to special events and exhibits they have.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesJean Rhys
2 CommentsPost a comment

It’s difficult to write about desire in a way which feels wholly new, but that’s something author April Ayers Lawson does repeatedly in her debut book. There’s a persistent sense in these five short stories that young people have access to a multitude of sexual imagery and opportunities. They are either totally sheltered from sex or there is a presumption that they know how to emotionally deal with the more mature aspects of sexuality. Yet their innocence and naivety leave them unprepared to accept the physical reality of sex and its consequences. Lawson has a fascinating way of describing the separation between people’s intentions and the outcomes of their unwieldy romantic and sexual yearnings. She does this through poignant imagery and layering complicated feelings between her characters. It’s apt that the title story ‘Virgin’ is what this book is named after because the feeling of purity cut through with the startling reality of intimate encounters recurs throughout each story.

The character Conner is sexually drawn to Andrew Wyeth's The Helga Pictures

The character Conner is sexually drawn to Andrew Wyeth's The Helga Pictures

Often people who ought to be the object of desire are passed over for people the characters find themselves unexpectedly attracted to. In ‘Virgin’ a married man finds himself inappropriately staring at the breasts of a cancer survivor, in ‘Three Friends in a Hammock’ women press against each other in an intimate space while gossiping about their complicated private lives and in 'The Way You Must Play Always' teenager Gretchen is drawn to a much older man who is terminally ill. I found it really effective the way Lawson shows how desire is much more complicated than it appears on the surface. In real life the object of desire isn’t necessarily who you imagine you’d be drawn to. Teenage boy Conner is both intrigued and repulsed by his mother’s transvestite friend Charlene in ‘The Negative Effects of Homeschooling’. He steals a book with paintings by Andrew Wyeth that contains art which isn’t immediately sexy, but what he finds seductive about these paintings are the representation of the physical weight and reality of the woman Wyeth repeatedly painted. In the final story ‘Vulnerability’ at one point the main character is shown paintings by an artist who depicts scenes of garish violence that he imagines occurring between people in the South (rather than any experiences he’s witnessed). There’s a disjuncture throughout this book between the reality of actions/emotions/experiences and how they are envisioned in people’s minds.

It’s interesting reading an author who clearly comes out of an established tradition of writing from the American South – at times parts of these stories made me think of Eudora Welty or Flannery O’Connor – but Lawson’s subjects are much more modern and her influences wide-ranging: one story begins with a quote from Margaret Atwood. The themes of humorous sexual confusion reminded me slightly of Patrick Ryan’s wonderful stories from “The Dream Life of Astronauts”. April Ayers Lawson gives such a lively and refreshing slant on the peculiar reality of people’s relationships to each other that I found “Virgin and Other Stories” often surprising, enlightening and a pleasure to read.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson

It’s especially emotional reading a book about someone’s real experiences when it feels like they could have so easily been my own. As a teenager in Maine during the mid-90s, I came to terms with my sexuality and defiantly came out to my family at an early age. Although it was incredibly difficult and damaging in some ways, I feel extremely lucky that some help was available to me. A counsellor at my school advised my parents that this was healthy and a local LGBT youth support group provided me with connections to other teenagers like me – this was something so important and dearly needed after feeling for so long like I was the only one. Without this institutional support I think things could have turned out very differently. I could have been pushed back in the closet or worse. So it feels like with a twist of fate I could have gone through what the author does in this heartrending and beautifully written memoir. It describes a period of young adulthood when Conley entered into “treatment” at an ex-gay therapy religious organization after he was outed as gay to his parents. He recounts this painful experience as well as the events leading up to them in a way which masterfully examines his development and the way in which it was severely interrupted by this dangerous ill-founded program.

At one point Conley and another man listen to 'Pagan Poetry' on a loop in a way which reminded me of my young adulthood.

One of the things I found most touching about the book is the poetic way Conley describes a period in his teenage life when he played video games with a hypnotic obsession. Like many teenagers, I did the same. This is an activity many young people devout countless hours to and it’s often remarked that this is a mindless exercise. But Conley gets in this memoir how it’s more like a period of gestation where an adolescent can slip in and out of the self while coming to terms with the reality of new desires. Certainly it can be a way of avoiding reality, but it’d be wrong to think that nothing is going on in the mind of a boy completing adventurous quests on his game console. It’s not so much a way of wasting time as allowing oneself to float free from the constrictions that you’ve only just realized you’re entangled in.

It feels like this is a memoir which has become increasingly relevant considering that Mike Pence will become the next vice-President of the United States. This is a Congressman who advocated for funding conversion therapy and opposed LGBT rights. This ridiculous form of pseudo-treatment has been decreasing in America recently, but it could very well grow again if the prevailing sentiments expressed by the government are anti-LGBT. Conley powerfully describes the perverse way people who enter ex-gay therapy are expected to surrender aspects which are vital to their personality: “We had to give over our memories, our desires, our ideas of freedom, to Jesus our master.” The book movingly works up to the reasons why its author entered this program and how it felt like there was no other option. It drives home how vulnerable young people are and how easily they can be manipulated when brought under misguided influences. This is a book with a lot of heart that has something important to say.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesGarrard Conley
3 CommentsPost a comment

The geeky act of making lists of favourite books is a pleasure I don't think we should deny ourselves. What better way to get a snap-shot of someone's reading tastes and pick up on recommendations for great books you might have missed over the year. I read 112 books this year, many of them newly published in 2016 and many of them highly enjoyable. However, these ten books all show great craft but also feel personally significant to me. Click on the titles below to read my full reviews of each book.

The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates

Anyone who knows how Oates is my favourite author might think it is an obvious choice for me to put a new novel by her on my list, but this is truly an excellent book. The more I think about it the more layers it yields about the meaning of personality and romance. An unusual love story between a man with short term memory loss and scientist Margot that explores the elusive mechanics of the mind.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I can't ignore the significance of this novel coming out in an American election year when a campaign fuelled by racism and anti-immigration helped a politically-inexperienced misogynist enter The White House. This story about an escaped slave named Cora who travels a physical underground railroad to arrive in different states of racism America says something so significant about the times we live in.

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

The state of loneliness is a curious psychological phenomenon which seems natural to the human condition, but one which is only increasing in an age of so-called online connectedness. Laing's incredibly personal and well-researched non-fiction book looks at the lives and work of many great queer artists to see how loneliness manifests in different ways. This is an incredibly touching and moving book.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Although it may seem daunting to read a novel that is one continuous sentence it comes to seem quite a natural thing as you enter the consciousness of its Irish protagonist. It's a significant reflection of the times we live in as much as it is as a moving story of family and the working life. Reading it is an electrifying experience.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Great survival stories are both thrilling and heartening. This is a tale of a girl who survives a brutal civil war only to discover that her natural desire to love women goes against the religious beliefs of her family and community. She faces a very different kind of challenge to survive as she's pressured to settle down into marriage with a man and gradually assert what she really wants in life. It's a brutally honest and inspiring story which suggests strategies for unifying disparate communities which are bitterly embattled.

Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin

Creating finely constructed short stories that give the impact of a full-length novel is a difficult challenge. But this is something McLaughlin accomplishes consistently and beautifully in this memorable and significant debut collection. Even though I read it at the very beginning of the year many of these stories about people across all levels of Irish society have remained clear in my mind. You can watch me discussing this and other great books of short stories from 2016 here.

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

Tremain's tremendous artistry for plucking an uncommon story from history and making it come alive is unparalleled. Here she writes about two boys in Switzerland in the time immediately following WWII, but moves backwards and then forwards in time to show the repercussions of political neutrality and hidden love. This is a beautifully accomplished novel.

Autumn by Ali Smith

There's no writer more daring and inventive than Ali Smith. Not only has she bravely planned a quartet of novels based around the seasons, but she's reflecting in them what's happening in society now. This novel focuses on the country's mood in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote and an uncommon friendship between young Elisabeth and a mysterious old man Daniel. In doing so she addresses the meaning of nationality, the state of the modern world and the nature of language. She does this with great flair, humour and passion.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Music has played a large part in many great novels this year – from Rose Tremain's novel to Julian Barnes' most recent novel “The Noise of Time” - but Thien skilfully shows how the art of composition and the compositions themselves fare under fifty years of living under the Maoist government. A girl follows her family's history in this complex, absorbing story which culminates in a depiction of the infamous student protests in Tiananmen Square. It's an epic novel.

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

It's always an immense pleasure to discover an incredibly talented author I've not read before and one of this year's great finds for me is Sarah Moss. This novel takes a potential family tragedy and expands the story to explore the messiness of ordinary life in such a tender and poignant way. It also reflects back to the past to consider the meaning of loss using such a disarming style of narration which totally gripped me.


Have you read any of my choices? Which are you most interested to read? Let me know some of your favourite books of the year. I'm always eager to hear about books I might have missed reading.

Here are my picks of ten great books of Irish fiction published in 2016 that I’ve read this year. I know there are a bunch of books by Irish authors that I missed out on so if you have a favourite Irish book which doesn’t appear on my list let me know about it in the comments below. I’ve always felt drawn towards Irish literature. I don’t know if this is because the entire mother’s side of my family are Irish-Americans or if it’s just because the Irish are incredible writers, but whatever the case I often read a high proportion of Irish literature. So here are my ten choices in no particular order and you can click on the titles to read my full reviews of each book.

The Glass Shore edited by Sinead Gleeson

It's wonderful that Gleeson has followed editing her tremendous anthology The Long Gaze Back with this new book which specifically focuses on women writers from the north of Ireland. The anthology moves by chronology of the authors' birth to span over two centuries of distinct stories – some of which relate directly to the region they come out of and others which are set other places. You can watch me discussing this and other great books of short stories from 2016 here.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

McCormack's style may be reminiscent of Samuel Beckett for artfully capturing the untamed thoughts of his character, but his voice is wholly his own. The novel gets the mood and perspective of an average Irish man at a certain time so perfectly that it's mesmerizing to read.

Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan

This absorbing novel tells three distinct stories set in different points of a century: a girl named Ruth whose family has newly arrived in Ireland, mute teenager Shem living in a mental health facility and journalist Aisling who considers converting to Judaism for her partner Noah. These tales are slyly connected and form a touching overall impression of the Jewish experience in Ireland. It's a forceful and intelligent novel.

The Lonely Sea and Sky by Dermot Bolger

I had never really considered Ireland's precarious political state during WWII before reading this, but Bolger's novel based on a real historical incident brings the issue poignantly to life. It's the story of a young boy who becomes a sailor out of necessity and how his ship chose to save German sailors stranded in the water one fateful day in 1943. It's a gripping, emotional tale.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

It's a bit of a cheat choosing this novel which was first published in 2015, but it only came out in the States for the first time in 2016. This year has also really been good for McInerney as she won both the Baileys Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize. It's a tale of a group of loosely-connected individuals in modern day Cork whose lives are adversely affected by the country's social systems and religious traditions. It's a tremendously powerful novel.

The Maker of Swans by Paraic O’Donnell

Part of what makes new Irish fiction so exciting to follow is the ceaselessly inventive and daring writing style of its authors. O'Donnell's story of a remote grand house run by a mysterious Mr Crowe, his mute ward Clara and a butler named Eustace has its own logic. It's fantastically inventive in a way which gets at new meaning and poignant emotions not accessible in more traditional fiction.

All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan

Donal Ryan is one of the best writers working today. His stories are told with such precision that they make extraordinarily forceful reading experiences. This novel may be his most perfect yet as it relates the story of narrator Melody who has become pregnant by a younger man who is not her husband. It's a tale told with a lot of heart and wisdom that also shows a section of Irish society not often seen.

Inch Levels by Neil Hegarty

Things which are left unsaid in families have the ability to adversely affect individuals over a lifetime. This skilful debut novel about a terminally-ill man named Patrick and his troubled family shows how generations of silence conceal personal hopes and pain. Partially set against the violence of political change in Northern Ireland, this story is deeply emotional and quietly absorbing.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The clash between old fashioned faith and modern thought creates a tense tale in this novel set in rural Ireland in the mid 1800s. English nurse Lib who trained under Florence Nightingale is charged with watching an adolescent farm girl who claims she no longer needs to eat because she can subsist on the manna from heaven alone. Lib is determined to prove the fraud, but the story gradually reveals her own complex past in the process. It's a finely-crafted and emotionally-charged story.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

This is a very established writer, but this is actually the first novel I’ve read by Barry. I was totally enraptured. The novel tells the story of a young Irishmen and his companion John who are both lovers and soldiers in the US military first fighting in conflicts with Native Americans and then in the Civil War. His narrative style is arresting, poetic and insightful.


Let me know if you've read any of these books, which you're most interested in trying to read now and if you have any other great Irish books you've read this year in the comments below!

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
6 CommentsPost a comment

I only realized in the past couple of years how dreadful many adults are about articulating what they really desire – also how dreadful I am at saying what I desire. Superficial desires might be easily expressed, but what someone really wishes to experience or become is often much harder to put out in the world because its buried under years of socialized behaviour. It's much easier to conform to expectations and slot into a category. In this short, powerful memoir “The Surrender”, Esposito describes his lifelong journey to giving into his desire to dress as a woman. At a certain point in his childhood he learned that his compulsion to dress girlish wasn't compatible with the masculine image imposed upon him so it remained secret and dormant for many years. Only through a surprising identification with Kiarostami's film Close-Up and gradually admitting to others his desire, does he begin to dress in a feminine way outside of the private sphere. This provokes Esposito to formulate a strikingly original meditation on the meaning of identity and desire in the modern world.

I was really struck by the profundity and beautiful simplicity Esposito has for articulating how burying what you desire is a grave dishonesty. He discovers “My needs were not compatible with the logics bred into my mind, and it was up to me to change them.” It takes a lot of patient reasoning and difficult confrontations with himself to truly understand why he fears his transvestitism being exposed. It also takes a lot of trust to confide in someone how he really feels, but how surprising and wonderful it can be to get a positive response to such a confession. He describes with heartrending emotion the feeling of being observed and why dressing openly as a woman was so difficult: “If personality is a performance, then there are certain parts of it that one only experiences in the presence of others. Shame, affection, desire, vulnerability; these are quantities whose experience in solitude is like the sound of a sonata heard by one faulty ear.” It takes many years for him to build up the certainty of character to allow his private self to be seen publicly.

One of the most touching things is the way Esposito describes the evolution of his identity in sync with the theory, literature and films he consumes. He meaningfully enters into a dialogue with those whose ideas feed into his experience helping him to better articulate his own desires. It made me aware of why reading feels like such a vital part of my life and how all the feelings produced from the things I read aren't just abstract concepts, but things that apply directly to my day to day life. I think this book makes a perfect companion to Maggie Nelson's “The Argonauts” which I only read recently. Both reflect strikingly on the dynamics of gender in a deeply personal and intelligent way.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesScott Esposito