“After Sara’s Year” by Mark David Gerson— My Friends Are Back

after Sara's year

Gerson, Mark David. “After Sara’s Year”, (The Sara Stories), CreateSpace, 2016.

My Friends Are Back

Amos Lassen

About a year ago I raved about a new book, “Sara’s Year” by Mark David Gerson and remarked that once I finished it, I sat down to read it again. I was probably hoping to find something I missed the first time. I understand that others were drawn into the story as I was and so Gerson wrote a sequel which also proudly stands on its own.

Sadie Finkel has had quite a past and this is what makes her the woman that she is. We sense that there is something going on inside of her but for whatever reason, we do really want to know what it is. There is no doubt that her past has been traumatic. In a sense we are like her as each of us holds onto something that we do not want to share with others. But now the time has come for Sadie to face those issues and to try to understand whether she is the victim or the victimized… and as she does, so do the readers.

I understand that this is the second novel in the “The Sara Stories” about a Jewish family in Montreal and its dynamics. You might wonder why I used Jewish here and question whether Gerson has narrowed his audience by portraying a woman bound to her heritage. Let me assure that this is not the case at all. Judaism has a wonderful history and heritage and it is the perfect backdrop for the novel. Jewish readers will see it as more than just a backdrop and perhaps even as a character in itself. As in all literature our own backgrounds play into what we read and being Jewish myself made me read this perhaps differently than a non-Jew might.

I really love that we feel the author’s love for his characters. I could not help but think that Gerson based these characters on people that he has known; they are just that real. Our Sadie Finkel, for example, manages to win us over and put us off at the same time; she unsettles us and she is totally sympathetic and dear. But Sadie is not alone in being wonderfully depicted. We also learn about the lives of Bernie, Mac and Erik. It is Sadie’s story that is the spine of the book but she is not alone here. Everyone has a story and how we react to someone depends on how we perceive that person (based many times on their story). Gerson paints his characters with such color and humanity that we are quick to perceive who each character is. That does not mean that he gives us all likeable characters but he does shows us what brings each character to the point when we meet him/her. I found here that the more we got to now each character, our impressions changed. There are plenty of surprises here.

I want to stress that knowing about one’s past allows us to understand their present and this is where Mark David Gerson excels. We learn about family and familial relationships, about loves and losses and about passion which is the single word I would use if asked to say one word about “After Sara’s Year”. It is secrets that our characters together and endear them to us.

I found this to be quite an emotional read and I actually found my eyes welling up with tears several times. Holding onto the past can both be hurtful and rewarding and it is also a cleansing experience. I find there is no better feeling that being exhausted after a read yet even with that feeling that there is a sense of disappointment in that there are no more pages to turn.

I have deliberately stayed away from summarizing the pot because I want each and every reader to have the same wonderful experience I have had here. Gerson presents us with a woman that we feel nothing for at first and then grow to love. That’s all I can say but that is more than enough.

“SAVED”— That Good Old Religion

saved

“Saved”

That Good Old Religion

Amos Lassen

Mary (Jena Malone) is a happy young lady who attends the American Eagle Christian Academy where she is a proud member of the Christian Jewels singing group. Her single parent mother (Mary-Louise Parker) is also flying high after having a good year after having been named #1 Christian interior designer for the greater Baltimore area. What neither is aware of it that trouble looms on the horizon.

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After her boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust), tells her that he thinks he is gay, Mary has a vision of Jesus and decides after much soul-searching to go to bed with Dean to put him back on the right path away from evil. Dean’s parents later find magazines with photos of naked men and they understand that their son is gay and send him to the Mercy House Christian Treatment Center to eradicate his “spiritually toxic affliction.” Mary fees that God as deserted her and se begins to understand a little something about the way she is living.

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Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), the manipulative head of the Christian Jewels and the most outspoken and zealous believer in the senior class, leads prayer groups for Dean, and when she finds out that Mary is pregnant, turns against her big time. For kindness, Mary has to look to Cassandra (Eve Amurri), the school’s only Jew and a person who prides herself on going against the in-crowd. This rebel’s best friend is Roland (Macaulay Culkin), Hilary’s wheel-chair bound cynical brother. Not even Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), the principal of the Academy and the secret lover of Mary’s mother, can handle the chaos that ensues leading up the grand finale of prom night.

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This is a satire that pokes fun at the rigidity of proud, angry, and intolerant fundamentalist believers. It is not, as some critics have said) anti-Christian, rather it ridicules intolerance forms while making a case for the spiritual practice of hospitality. Brian Dannelly directs from a screenplay co-written with Michael Urban. Hilary’s faith is built upon her need for attention and power over others and, in effect, she is a zealot. The crusade against wickedness so takes her in her that she has no energy left for the heart and soul of the Gospel, which is loving one’s neighbor.

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The film follows the traditional pattern of many other teenage movies. There’s a clique ruled by the snobbiest and most popular girl in school, and an opposition made up of outcasts, nonconformists and rebels. What makes this different is that this time it is that the teen queen, Hilary Faye, is the loudest Jesus praiser at American Eagle Christian High School. Her opposition is a group of kids who do not meet with her approval. Her brother Roland is in a wheelchair and rejects all forms of sympathy. He horrifies his sister by becoming Cassandra’s boyfriend. There’s also Patrick (Fugit), member of a Christian skateboarding team and the son of Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), the school’s widowed principal who is carrying on an affair wit Mary’s mother. Patrick is thoughtful and introspective and isn’t sure he agrees with his father’s complacent morality.

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The first half of this movie sharply satirizes the values of Hilary Faye’s values and those of her born-again friends. When Mary sacrifices her virginity to conquer Dean’s homosexuality, she’s a member of Hilary Faye’s singing trio, the Christian Jewels, and a high-ranking celebrity among the school’s Jesus boosters. But the worldly Cassandra notices her pregnancy before anyone else does, and soon the unwed mother-to-be is hanging out with the gay, the Jew and the kid in the wheelchair. Patrick, who is having his own rebellion against Pastor Skip chooses to be with the rebels.

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The film argues that Jesus would have embraced the cast-outs and the misfits, and might have leaned toward situational ethics instead of rigid morality. “Saved!” is an important little film as well as an entertaining one. It has a political message by showing that Jesus counseled more for acceptance and tolerance than some of his followers think. By the end of the movie, mainstream Christian values have not been overthrown, but demonstrated and embraced. Director Brian Dannelly, also wants to be a peace offering in the culture wars, suggesting that the polarization of our society is a smoke screen for our own internal confusion about values, morals and desire.

Extras on the DVD include one audio commentary by director and co-writer Brian Dannelly, producer Sandy Stern, and co-writer Michael Urban, and another commentary by stars Mandy Moore and Gena Malone. There’s also a “Heaven Help Us” featurette and some deleted scenes and bloopers.

“The Vampire and the G.I.” by J.P. Bowie— A Paranormal Story

the vampire and the GI

Bowie, J.P. “The Vampire and the G.I.”, Wilde City Press, 2016.

A Paranormal Story

Amos Lassen

It is 2034 and the war in the Middle East is finally over. Veteran Cole Everett has returned home to Los Angeles has returned home and is set on rebuilding his life and reconnecting with Sean Martin his cousin who is a private detective. However when learns that Sean’s partner is a vampire and even though the world has changed and vampires are finally accepted by society, Cole cannot understand why anyone would want to mingle with the undead. when he learns that Sean’s mate, Arturo, is a vampire. Then Cole meets Arturo who introduces him to Rafael to whom he is very quickly attracted and how has to reconsider how he fells about vampires.

Cole gets a job at a high tech company as a security guard and then becomes suspicious things are not as they appear. He has to decide whether he should notify the police or just take a change and keep working there. It took Cole a while to realize that Arturo was okay and that it was okay for Sean to love him.

This is a sequel to J.P. Bowie’s “The Vampire and the P.I.” which I have not read but that did not stop me from enjoying this book. Even though I am over vampire stories, I will have a look at the other book.

Cole’s meeting Rafael also showed him how much he had missed about vampires and Rafael totally captivates him from the moment they met.

This is a fun book that requires no extra thought and is a great get-away read for couple of days J.P. Bowie, as usual, tells a good story.

“FRANCESCA”— The Return

francesca poster

“Francesca”

The Return

Amos Lassen

Fifteen years ago, Francesca, the daughter of the renowned poet and playwright, Vittorio Viscont disappeared and now the community where she lived is stalked by a psychopath inspired by Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” who is determined to get rid of the “impure and damned souls” that live there. Moretti and Succo are the detectives assigned to finding the killer. Francesca has returned, but she is not be the same girl that she once was. The detectives are in a race against time to stop the murders.

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The plot is fairly simple. There’s a murderer on the loose who wears a leather coat and gloves and a fedora that obscures the face. The murderer is a woman who is some sort of personal vendetta killing spree. Each of the murders curiously makes a reference to Dante’s “Inferno” and each of the victims in some way connected to the cold case of the disappearance of a little girl named Francesca. daughter of a noted literary historian, some fifteen years earlier.

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Francesca is the story of a slasher told in the manner of a classic giallo film replete with sexual licentiousness, sexual impotency, and sexual deviancy. The film looks like it was taken directly from the age of giallo and we see this in the attention to detail. We are very aware of the directors, Luciano Onetti and Nicolas Onetti’s love and admiration for the genre is clear.

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However something is missing and it is probably because I did not get a sense of urgency and fear that were such parts of giallo films. Moretti and Succo and their investigation do not appear to be motivated by any sense of urgency to find and stop this killer. There is also less gore than we are used to seeing in the classic form.

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The film is a visual feast so the fact that the narrative is lacking does not really matter as we are wrapped up visually by the film. The Onettis recreate the giallo feel with the music, cinematography, set decoration, costume, special effects and performances. “Francesca” is impressive technically and aesthetically and is certainly worth seeing.

“Tales from the Levee” by Martha Miller— Gay in the Midwest, 60s and 70s

tales from the levee

Miller, Martha, “Tales from the Levee”, Bold Strokes Reprint, 2016.

Gay in the Midwest, 60s and 70s

Amos Lassen

Casey is a masculine, part Apache and a lesbian who was born and raised in a small midwestern town in Illinois. She is the central character in Martha Miller’s, “Tales from the Levee”, entertaining and historically accurate look at Midwestern gay life in the 60s and 70s. Casey knew herself well and she knew that she was not like the other girls she knew. knowing inside herself that she was not like others she knew. She managed to get away from the small town and moved to Springfield where she found an area known as the Levee.

At the Levee with its several gay bars, a massage parlor and a place for a burger became Casey’s new home and it was there that she found other lesbians, drag queens, ladies of the night and gay man all of whom called the area home. Martha Miller gives us stories about the characters that Casey met there and these and both sad and funny.

The Levee came into being after the Orpheum Theater was demolished in 1965. Those marginalized by society, lesbians and gays, made it their home and they created a community. The stories we read here are interconnected though the Levee and by the need for those who are “different” to be together.

These stories come to us in with each story representing a year between the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies. They are basically being gay at that period in history and we read about how to be gay at that time. The characters propel the book and author Miller really knows how to tell a story.

“It’s a Sin” by Steve Burford— Summerskill and Lyon, Number One

it's a sin

Burford, Steve. “It’s a Sin”, NineStar Press, 2016.

Summerskill and Lyon, Number One

Amos Lassen

When gay Detective Sergeant Dave Lyon is assigned to Detective Inspector Claire Summerskill’s team as part of the Service’s ‘positive discrimination policy’, no one at Foregate Street Station is happy including. Summerskill and Lyon. They both share mutual suspicion and mistrust for reach other but that must be put aside when they are sent out to investigate a young man’s beaten body is found on a canal tow path. The question is why would someone want to kill middle class arts student Jonathan Williams and is his death linked to that of rent boy, would-be porn film star Sean?

As the investigation continues, the two detectives untangle a web of connections, false assumptions and sheer prejudices and they are forced to look at their relationship to each other and to the police force. I understand that this is the first novel in the “Summerskill and Lyon” police procedural novels.

I rarely read crime fiction but I must say that I totally enjoyed this book. The characters are well drawn and the plot has great action. We meet the two detectives just as they are promoted to new positions on the force which means that they must prove themselves not just to the powers that be but to each other as well. It is important to understand that this is not a gay romance and that Claire is a female.

we meet Dave Lyon and Claire Summerskill, both as they are moving into new positions where they need to prove themselves. Both having to prove themselves just that little bit more; one because she is female, the other because he is gay. It’s not overt, that extra push they have to give, but both are a step out of the white, straight, male bracket that society accepts so readily. Of course, this is only the first in the series, so I’m hoping that relationships will develop and evolve as more books are produced.

This is a British book totally so spellings are different but that does not hinder the plot or the read. As for the title, you will just have to read the book to find out what it means.

Rudolf Brazda, Who Survived Pink Triangle, Is Dead at 98

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Rudolf Brazda, Who Survived Pink Triangle, Is Dead at 98

By DENNIS HEVESIAUG. 5, 2011

Rudolf Brazda, believed to be the last surviving man to wear the pink triangle — the emblem sewn onto the striped uniforms of the thousands of homosexuals sent to Nazi concentration camps, most of them to their deaths — died on Wednesday in Bantzenheim, in Alsace, France. He was 98.

His death was confirmed by the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany.

Mr. Brazda, who was born in Germany, had lived in France since the Buchenwald camp, near Weimar, Germany, was liberated by American forces in April 1945. He had been imprisoned there for three years.

It was only after May 27, 2008, when the German National Monument to the Homosexual Victims of the Nazi Regime was unveiled in Berlin’s Tiergarten park — opposite the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe — that Mr. Brazda became known as probably the last gay survivor of the camps. Until he notified German officials after the unveiling, the Lesbian and Gay Federation believed there were no other pink-triangle survivors.

In a statement on Thursday, Mémorial de la Déportation Homosexuelle, a French organization that commemorates the Nazi persecution of gay people, said that Mr. Brazda “was very likely the last victim and the last witness” to the persecution.

“It will now be the task of historians to keep this memory alive,” the statement said, “a task that they are just beginning to undertake.”

One of those historians is Gerard Koskovich, curator of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender History Museum in San Francisco and an author with Roberto Malini and Steed Gamero of “A Different Holocaust” (2006).

Rudolf Brazda was interned at Buchenwald for 3 years. Credit Gérard Bohrer

Pointing out that only men were interned, Mr. Koskovich said, “The Nazi persecution represented the apogee of anti-gay persecution, the most extreme instance of state-sponsored homophobia in the 20th century.”

During the 12-year Nazi regime, he said, up to 100,000 men were identified in police records as homosexuals, with about 50,000 convicted of violating Paragraph 175, a section of the German criminal code that outlawed male homosexual acts. There was no law outlawing female homosexual acts, he said. Citing research by Rüdiger Lautmann, a German sociologist, Mr. Koskovich said that 5,000 to 15,000 gay men were interned in the camps and that about 60 percent of them died there, most within a year.

“The experience of homosexual men under the Nazi regime was one of extreme persecution, but not genocide,” Mr. Koskovich said, when compared with the “relentless effort to identify all Jewish people and ultimately exterminate them.”

Still, the conditions in the camps were murderous, said Edward J. Phillips, the director of exhibitions at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Men sent to the camps under Section 175 were usually put to forced labor under the cruelest conditions — underfed, long hours, exposure to the elements and brutal treatment by labor brigade leaders,” Mr. Phillips said. “We know of instances where gay prisoners and their pink triangles were used for guards’ target practices.”

Two books have been written about Mr. Brazda. In one, “Itinerary of a Pink Triangle” (2010), by Jean-Luc Schwab, Mr. Brazda recalled how dehumanizing the incarceration was. “Seeing people die became such an everyday thing, it left you feeling practically indifferent,” he is quoted as saying. “Now, every time I think back on those terrible times, I cry. But back then, just like everyone in the camps, I had hardened myself so I could survive.”

Rudolf Brazda was born on June 26, 1913, in the eastern German town of Meuselwitz to a family of Czech origin. His parents, Emil and Anna Erneker Brazda, both worked in the coal mining industry. Rudolf became a roofer. Before he was sent to the camp, he was arrested twice for violations of Paragraph 175.

After the war, Mr. Brazda moved to Alsace. There he met Edouard Mayer, his partner until Mr. Mayer’s death in 2003. He has no immediate survivors.

“Having emerged from anonymity,” the book “Itinerary of a Pink Triangle” says of Mr. Brazda, “he looks at the social evolution for homosexuals over his nearly 100 years of life: ‘I have known it all, from the basest repression to the grand emancipation of today.’ ”

“Queer Aging: The Gayby Boomers and a New Frontier for Gerontology” by Jesus Ramirez-Valles— Eleven Older Gay Men Speak Out

queer aging

Ramirez-Valles, Jesus. “Queer Aging: The Gayby Boomers and a New Frontier for Gerontology”, Oxford University Press, 2016.

Eleven Older Gay Men Speak Out

Amos Lassen

Long overdue is a new book by Jesus Ramirez-Valles that examines the aging of gay men via eleven first-person accounts. We have interviews with racially and economically diverse older gay men that gives us new perspectives on aging and now that I am one of those older gay men, I found this book to be both educative and fascinating. Aside from the narratives, we have both a theoretical and historical framework for engaging with subjects’ first-person narratives. The book is a wonderful addition to our canon and a good text for those who are studying and/or working in the field (sociology, American history, LGBTQ studies, gerontology, African American and Latino studies, and social work). Health professionals should also find it useful.

For probably the first time (that it is openly spoken about), we have a generation of gay men who are in the autumns of their lives and who are openly dealing with physical and emotional situations that make aging somewhat revolutionary. Here we look at their approaches to friendship, care giving, romantic and sexual relationships, illness, and bereavement. Many of these older gay males were the gay early activists and they have something to say.

Through candid, first-person narratives, the subjects here reflect on their varied experiences as late career professionals, retirees, AIDS survivors, caregivers for ailing partners, and witnesses to profound social and cultural change. When we look at what they have to say, within a larger introduction to both Queer Theory and its history, their reflections give is a new context for understanding the aging arc and experience of older gay men. Below is the Table of Contents

Preface

1: Introduction: Queering Gerontology

2: Stan:” If I’m left, then I have to be the best little gay boy ever”

3: Anthony: ” It has to be something else to this”

4: Marvin: “I learned very early that it’s not just about being gay”

5: Robert: “I’m a pusher and I don’t like to hear the word ‘no'”

6: Ramiro: “My family is really my gay friends”

7: Grand: “I am a humanitarian”

8: Charlie:”…being older and being by yourself”

9: Adam:”…age is just a number. I don’t necessarily put much stock in it”

10: Jesse:” I am a chameleon. I adapt to whatever you throw me into”

11: Louis: “I’m always meeting the underdog people”

12: Jimmy: “The party came to a crashing end”

13: The Praxis of Queer Gerontology

“Killing The Rainbow: Violence Against LGBT” by R.J. Parker— True Stories

killing the rainbow

Parker R.J. “Killing The Rainbow: Violence Against LGBT”, RJ Parker Publishing, 2016.

True Stories

Amos Lassen

I cannot help wondering when violence against the LGBT community will stop. Even with all of the progress that has been made, violence— assault, torture, harassment, and sometimes even murder against members of the LGBT community continues. Homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people also faced constant discrimination in their everyday lives on the basis of their sexual orientation. This very discrimination against members of the LGBT community stems from religious beliefs, from God-fearing people who say grace before meals and that assault a gay person for desert, political views, bias or even internal fear. R.J. Parker gives us the history of the Gay Rights Movement along with several true accounts of violated men and women, including the most recent tragedy at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Parker gives us a lot of interesting information about violence and crime that is based on sexual orientation. We first get a look at the laws and punishments dealing with homosexuality as far back as the Middle Ages and I can honestly say that I do not understand how someone’s sexual preference can be so disturbing to others that they are willing to kill for it. However, there have always been those that believe that others who engage in same-sex relations are both wicked and evil as well aberrant. Some who became involved were even punished by being killed.

It has taken protests and cries for action by the LGBT community to have new laws passed that classify such violence as hate crimes. We read of what LGBT people have had to deal with because they want to be who they are. There was not a whole lot new for me here but then I have been an activist for a long time but for many this could be an eye-opening read.

“Diary of a Fire” by Elias Miguel Munoz— Exile and Betrayal

diary of fire

Munoz, Elias Miguel. “Diary of Fire”, Lethe/Tincture Press, 2017.

Exile and Survival

Amos Lassen

“Diary of Fire’ is the story of political refugee Camilo Macias, a political refugee from Cuba who, as a boy, fled the island with his parents in 1969 to settle in Los Angeles. The book is narrated as memories from a present of loss when a fire has consumed Camilo’s home. Bringing journal entries, poems, letters, photos, and excerpts from the character’s first published work of fiction together, we get the story as Macias himself sees it— as pieces of a puzzle that will some day be completed and present the big picture. There are certain issues that we read in Macias’s narration. Among these are the sexual and physical abuse he suffered as a child and the resulting trauma, his relationship with Cuba as a communist nation and Cuban American exile communities here in America that remains conflicted, his bisexuality and his very strained relationship with both communist Cuba and the Cuban exile communities in the United States, his bisexual nature, and the strained relationship with his father. This is a story of exile and survival written as a memoir. Camilo strives to rebuild his life as he deals with fear cruelty and hope. out of fear and cruelty and ashes, but also out of hope.

While this story is supposedly about Macias, it is actually a roman à clef that looks at exile and alienation gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity. We most definitely feel the sense of loss and desire that Macias feels and that is because Munoz is intimate in his writing and there were times when I looked up from the pages that I expected to see him sitting opposite me. Much of what he writes about is relevant to most of us but certainly not to the same degree. Another aspect of the book is quite important today since we have reestablished relations with Cuba, it is important to know what life is like there and to understand the culture that had been foreign to us for a long time.