The best novels that capture modern global queer experiences

The Books I Picked & Why

My Tender Matador

By Pedro Lemebel, Katherine Silver

Book cover of My Tender Matador

Why 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.

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In the Spider's Room: A Novel

By Muhammad Abdelnabi, Jonathan Wright

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

Why 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.

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Notes of a Crocodile

By Qiu Miaojin, Bonnie Huie

Book cover of Notes of a Crocodile

Why 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.

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By Akwaeke Emezi

Book cover of Freshwater

Why 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.

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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

By Ocean Vuong

Book cover of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Why 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.

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