The best novels that capture modern global queer experiences

Who am I?

Saleem Haddad was born in Kuwait City to an Iraqi-German mother and a Palestinian-Lebanese father. He has worked with Médecins Sans Frontières and other international organisations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, and Egypt. His first novel, Guapa, is a political and personal coming-of-age story of a young gay man living through the 2011 Arab revolutions. The novel received critical acclaim from the New Yorker, The Guardian, and others. It was awarded a Stonewall Honour and won the 2017 Polari First Book Prize. His directorial debut, Marco, premiered in March 2019 and was nominated for the 2019 Iris Prize for ‘Best British Short Film’.

I wrote...


By Saleem Haddad,

Book cover of Guapa

What is my book about?

Set over the course of twenty-four hours, Guapa follows Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, as he tries to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and social upheaval. 

Rasa roams the city’s slums and prisons, the lavish weddings of the country’s elite, and the bars where outcasts and intellectuals drink to a long-lost revolution. Each new encounter leads him closer to confronting his own identity, as he revisits his childhood and probes the secrets that haunt his family. As Rasa confronts the simultaneous collapse of political hope and his closest personal relationships, he is forced to discover the roots of his alienation and try to re-emerge into a society that may never accept him.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

My Tender Matador

By Pedro Lemebel, Katherine Silver (translator),

Book cover of My Tender Matador

Why did I love this book?

Set in Santiago, Chile, in 1986, Lemebel weaves an unconventional love story between an aging cross-dresser and a young revolutionary. Queerness suffuses the luscious, camp, and irreverent sentences of the novel, and does not shy away from challenging all forms of convention. By splicing the narrative between the different voices and perspectives of the ‘Queen of the Corner’ and Chile’s dictator Pinochet, queerness brushes up, mingles, and challenges the rigid perspectives of military dictatorship, reminding us of the revolutionary potential of queerness.

By Pedro Lemebel, Katherine Silver (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked My Tender Matador as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Centered around the 1986 attempt on the life of Augusto Pinochet, an event that changed Chile forever, My Tender Matador is one of the most explosive, controversial, and popular novels to have been published in that country in decades. It is spring 1986 in the city of Santiago, and Augusto Pinochet is losing his grip on power. In one of the city's many poor neighborhoods works the Queen of the Corner, a hopeless and lonely romantic who embroiders linens for the wealthy and listens to boleros to drown out the gunshots and rioting in the streets. Along comes Carlos, a…

In the Spider's Room: A Novel

By Muhammad Abdelnabi, Jonathan Wright (translator),

Book cover of In the Spider's Room: A Novel

Why did I love this book?

Written from the perspective of one of the victims of the infamous 2001 Queen Boat scandal, when 52 men were arrested and put on trial in Egypt during a raid on a gay party, In the Spider’s Room is an intense depiction of living in a society that fears and rejects any form of queerness. Unflinching, claustrophobic, and suffocating, Abdelnaby does not shy away from exploring what happens when one is presented with no avenues for expressing their desires and sense of self.

By Muhammad Abdelnabi, Jonathan Wright (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Spider's Room as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A sensitive and courageous account of life as a gay man in Egypt and Winner of the 2019 Prix de la Littérature Arabe

Hani was out for an evening stroll near Cairo’s Tahrir Square when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder. An informant had identified him, and he was thrown into the back of a police truck. There began a seven-month nightmare as he was swept up, along with fifty other men, in the infamous Queen Boat affair that targeted Egypt’s gay community.

Finally free, but traumatized into speechlessness, Hani writes down the events of his life―his first sexual…

Notes of a Crocodile

By Qiu Miaojin, Bonnie Huie (translator),

Book cover of Notes of a Crocodile

Why did I love this book?

Miaojin was one of the first openly lesbian writers in Taiwan, and wrote two novels before dying by suicide in Paris. Notes of a Crocodile follows the lives of a group of college-aged queer misfits in 1990s Taiwan. Heartfelt, melodramatic, and filled with youthful naiveté, the novel is also an experimentation in form, with different sections written as diaries, narrative, and even surrealist documentary-style sections on crocodiles, the novel emotes the feelings of punky, melancholic angst of being young and queer in a society that does not understand you.

By Qiu Miaojin, Bonnie Huie (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Notes of a Crocodile as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize Longlisted for the PEN Translation Prize A New York Times Editors' Choice
The English-language premiere of Qiu Miaojin's coming-of-age novel about queer teenagers in Taiwan, a cult classic in China and winner of the 1995 China Times Literature Award.

An NYRB Classics Original

Set in the post-martial-law era of late-1980s Taipei, Notes of a Crocodile is a coming-of-age story of queer misfits discovering love, friendship, and artistic affinity while hardly studying at Taiwan's most prestigious university. Told through the eyes of an anonymous lesbian narrator nicknamed Lazi, this cult classic is a…


By Akwaeke Emezi,

Book cover of Freshwater

Why did I love this book?

Freshwater is difficult to describe, and is best approached with an open mind and no expectation. Emezi has described the novel as an autobiography of their discovery of themselves as ogbanje, a spirit within Igbo mythology. What strikes me about Freshwater is its radically new approach to understanding and talking about mental health and transness, or rather, the presence of different selves within the body. It is a subtly decolonial story, and the experience of reading it can profoundly change the way we perceive ourselves and others.

By Akwaeke Emezi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Freshwater as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Completely blew me away.' Daisy Johnson, author of Everything Under

'One of the most dazzling debuts I've ever read.' Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go

'I'm urging everyone to read it.' Sophie Mackintosh, author of The Water Cure

Ada has always been unusual. Her parents prayed her into existence, but something must have gone awry. Their troubled child begins to develop separate selves and is prone to fits of anger and grief.When Ada grows up and heads to college in America, a traumatic event crystallises the selves into something more powerful. As Ada fades into the background of her…

Book cover of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Why did I love this book?

An autobiographical novel structured as a sensitive and soul-searching letter from a son to his illiterate mother. Vuong cares deeply about the characters in his novel, Vietnamese refugees arriving and building a life for themselves in the U.S.A, and he holds them protectively within the folds of the gorgeous and vivid prose. The novel subverts and expands our notions of Vietnamese-US history, reminding the reader of the violence inherent in the creation of an American identity.

By Ocean Vuong,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An instant New York Times Bestseller!

Longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction, the Carnegie Medal in Fiction, the 2019 Aspen Words Literacy Prize, and the PEN/Hemingway Debut Novel Award

Shortlisted for the 2019 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

Winner of the 2019 New England Book Award for Fiction!

Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by Vulture, Entertainment Weekly, Buzzfeed, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe,, Huffington Post, The A.V. Club, Nylon, The Week, The Rumpus, The Millions, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, and more.

"A lyrical work of self-discovery that's shockingly intimate and insistently…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in queer topics and characters, gay topics and characters, and cultural heritage?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about queer topics and characters, gay topics and characters, and cultural heritage.

Queer Topics And Characters Explore 165 books about queer topics and characters
Gay Topics And Characters Explore 120 books about gay topics and characters
Cultural Heritage Explore 13 books about cultural heritage

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Street Without Joy, Pachinko, and The Quiet American if you like this list.