Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“An Indefinite Sentence :A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex” by Siddharth Dube— A Memoir about Sex, Oppression and the Universal Struggle for Justice

Dube, Siddharth. “An Indefinite Sentence :A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex”, Simon and Schuster, 2019. A Memoir about Sex, Oppression, and the Universal Struggle for Justice Amos Lassen From the time he was a child in 1960s India, Siddharth Dube knew that he was different. As he dealt with his femininity, his sexuality and his intellect, he embarked on a lifelong journey of discovery and this journey included  Harvard classrooms, unsafe cruising sites, ivory-tower think-tanks, shantytowns, halls of power at the United Nations and World Bank to jail cells where sexual outcasts are brutally treated. Dube came of age in the early days of the AIDS epidemic and was at the frontlines when that disease made rights for gay men and for sex workers a matter of basic survival. He pushed to decriminalize same-sex relations and sex work in India, both of which were outlawed under laws dating back to British colonial rule. He became a tough critic of the United States’ imposition of its anti-prostitution policies on developing countries, warning that this was a 21st century replay of the moralistic Victorian-era campaigns that brought about endless persecution of countless women, men, and trans individuals all over the world.

“An Indefinite Sentence” is a personal and political journey in which Dube searched for love and self-respect as he became involved with the struggles of some of the world’s most oppressed people especially those who were cast aside because of  their sexuality. Dube writes about sexuality, gender expression and the securing human rights and social justice in the world of day.. We feel his outrage as we read how law and culture interfere with, but can also potentially support, human lives. Dube’s personal struggle became committed advocacy on behalf of others. Not only do we get a look at the long struggle against homophobia but we also get an up to date record of gay rights and AIDS relief activism worldwide. Dube gives a rich perspective that makes it clear that criminalizing sex work is not an effective strategy to uphold human dignity. In reading about Dube’s private marginalization, we led into a greater understanding  of public and communal discrimination against sexual minorities. Dube’s book is rich in style and education. This is also so much more than a memoir of a gay man’s life growing up in India and the United States. It is also a firsthand account of the lives of sexual minorities in the two countries. We see Dube as privileged and a pariah at the same time. His perspective is also dual in that it is both insider outsider and we easily empathize with the choices he made. Just as I found this to be more than a memoir; it is also more than just a read but a total experience.

“We: An Adoption and a Memoir” by Ben Barnz— A Memoir and a Love Letter

“Barnz, Ben. “We: An Adoption and a Memoir”,  Wyatt-McKenzie, 2018. A Memoir and a Love Letter Amos Lassen “We: An Adoption and a Memoir” is the story of Ben Barnz adopting a child and the legal battle with the birthfather that began the day after the child’s birth (and two days before 9/11). The book brings together this narrative with Barnz’s path to parenthood. His story begins with hi being a closeted kid in New York of the 1980s, a time when AIDS loomed heavily over the gay community. Of course back then, the ideas of gay marriage and gay adoption were just dreams. Barnz’s book is “part memoir, part love letter, part haunting tale”. We read about what it means to be a father, a son, a partner and part of an adopted family. We immediately feel the emotion with which this book was written. We go into the complicated relationships between birthparents and adoptive parents, between birthmothers and birthfathers, between parent and child, between married couples.  Barnz shares his story with great honesty, humor and even vulnerability. It is hard not to weep about the story and the way it is told. This is a look at fatherhood through the complex adoption process in a way we rarely get to learn of. “The boundless love, reverence and uncommon honesty he shows as he details his suspenseful and emotional path to parenthood will make you wonder if this page-turner of a story is, in fact, your story. Because it is. One way or another, it’s all of our stories.”


The Year’s Best LGBT Nonfiction 2018 A Personal List
Fieseler, Robert. “Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation”,Liveright, 2018. Love, Faith, Death and Grief (The Review) Amos Lassen Some of you might have noticed that I have already written about “Tinderbox” but part of my title said “This is not a review” but in many ways it was. There are only so many ways that you can write about something and I used a fair share of glowing material back then so that will not change. I have since reread “Tinderbox” twice and I am a bit stunned at how much I did not catch inn the first reading. Hence we now have my “real” review and it will be every bit as glowing as my “non-review”. (Warning: Some of this might sound familiar). As many of you know, I was born and raised in New Orleans and until I moved to Israel in the mid-60s, I was fairly active in the New Orleans gay and literary communities. That might help to explain why I try to read whatever comes out about the Crescent City. Robert Fieseler’s book is not only about New Orleans, it is also about gay New Orleans and when I first heard about it and that the author, like myself, was living in Boston, I knew that not only did I have to read the book, but that I would have to meet the author. I was a bit surprised about what Fieseler chose to write about to be his swan dive into the swimming pool of gay literature. His book “Tinderbox” is an in depth and intense look at the fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans that killed 32 people in 1973. There were already two books written about it, one in the last few years as well as documentary film that was making the rounds of the LGBT film festival circuit and is available on DVD and Blu ray. I wondered if there was a need for another book; it seemed to me that everything that could be said had already been said. When Fieseler told me why he wrote this, he totally pulled me into himself. It was not that long ago that we had the terrible shootings at Pulse in Orlando and what I did not realize was that until that horrific incident, what happened at the Upstairs Lounge was the most brutal crime against gay people in American history. New Orleans had long ago closed the case and then we had the Pulse as if history was repeating itself. “Tinderbox” looks at what happened at the Upstairs Lounge and incorporates it into the American civil rights movement. As we read we never lose the grief that came with what happened that Sunday in New Orleans. It is interesting that this horrible event has re-emerged as a catalyzing event of the gay liberation movement. Fieseler takes us through the tragic event that claimed the lives of thirty-one men and one woman on June 24, 1973 and what had been, until 2016, the largest mass murder of gay people. He gives us a look at “a closeted, blue- collar gay world that flourished before an arsonist ignited an inferno that destroyed an entire community.” That event alone was traumatic but so was what happened afterwards. Families were too embarrassed and ashamed to claim the bodies because the dead were gay people, the Catholic Church refused proper burial rights, the city of New Orleans was impervious to the survivors’ needs and we become aware of the total intolerance and prejudice that was part of the city, a place where whites and blacks got along but where straights and gays could not. The fire took place after Stonewall and during the beginnings of gay liberation in this country. There was a new kind of activism that came into being after the fire and it was the basis for a young gay liberation movement. For those of you who are unaware, the arson of the gay bar the Up Stairs Lounge in New Orleans sees to have been an act of revenge, allegedly committed by a small-time crook and alcoholic gay hustler by the name of Roger Dale Nunez. Nunez had tried to hustle one of the clients at the bar and in doing so he broke the no hustling rule and was asked to leave. He became very angry and an altercation followed resulting in Nunez being punched in the face and then physically removed from the bar. Two patrons claim they heard him yell, “I’m going to burn you all out,” or “I’m going to burn this place to the ground.” Apparently, Nunez certainly came back later that evening to set fire to the bar but that was never officially proven. Due to the ineptitude and prejudice of the times, and because he committed suicide years later before he could be arraigned and justice served, the case was closed. How Nunez managed to elude the law, many times over is fascinating but it is so discouraging and disgusting the New Orleans Police Force was so inept regarding this case. Fieseler writes not just about the fire but also about the world that allowed it to happen. New Orleans has always been a center of gay life and there were certainly no surprises about it. One would think that with the open and carefree lifestyle of the French Quarter that no one would really care about anyone’s sexuality yet the gay life of the city remained in the closet and a world of paradox replaced what we might have thought of as tolerant. We see here the furtiveness of gay life in a tolerant city as well as the official culture’s hostility to it. I have always found it interesting, however, that New Orleans drew famous people into its gay scene. I met and saw out frequently a world famous playwright, a major television star and a major film star not to mention closeted members of Congress, a famous district attorney and a mayor who drove around the French Quarter picking up boys. What happened that Sunday afternoon was one of the worst outrages against gay people in modern America, and here Fieseler relates it to us in all that it was. In effect, he is restoring a chapter of history that was once lost to us because those involved did not matter enough to be included. We become very aware of the depth of prejudice that was and there are no exceptions and that includes the media that covered the story when it happened. And yes, there are surprises here. More than once I had to stop reading to either dry my eyes or to sit back and think about something I had not heard before and this was the community that I had once been a part of. Fieseler brings the tragedy to life again through his meticulous research and survivor interviews and in doing so he damns homophobia and the comfort some found in the closet. He analyzes the event from many angles and as he does, he shows the failures of the New Orleans police department, the fire department, the mayor and the mayor’s office, the local and national press, the Church and so on. The broader political, spiritual and personal implications are still in effect today. The Upstairs Lounge fire was the largest mass murder of gays in American history, until 2016 in Orlando, Florida. And yet, in 1973, Fieseler shows how the Lounge disaster for the most part was swept under the rug because you cannot have mass deaths if you want the good times to roll. Everyone in command was part of the negligence and indifference to the fire codes in the French Quarter, “the gay ghetto”; the investigation was a disaster due to the ineptitude and bias of the police and fire departments; the local and national American press buried the story on the back pages; the mayor who stayed mostly silent and away; and the closeted gay community was too afraid to take a stand. As if that is not enough— the slow response from the fire department ended in confusion over the location of the bar, its layout, its fire exits, and the need for proper equipment to help the victims escape. The burned remains of the victims were left on display for hours due to the thoughtlessness of officials and first responders, and the press corps was free to mosey through remains of the site and take photos. There was infighting, misconceptions, and a New Orleans mentality that plagued the New Orleans gay community, a community which suddenly had to now deal with the beginning of a national gay protest movement and the Metropolitan Community that now wanted more visibility and more congregants. Important and recognizable gay figures were treated with mistrust and scorn and their intentions were questioned when they tried to call national attention to the Up Stairs Lounge fire. Families too ashamed to claim their loved ones and the Catholic Church refused proper burial rights. Fieseler is a wonderful and powerful storyteller. I watched him as he addressed the Boston History Project about his book and everyone was mesmerized. He comes alive when he speaks and when alludes to the lying implicit in the enforcement of “the closet,” and how lying causes more lying. He tells us that in New Orleans “The closet grew to function as a governing institution for non-heterosexual life in twentieth-century America, which explains precisely how a makeshift bar like the Up Stairs Lounge could burn to its foundations and, in so doing, disappear from memory.” Having come out in New Orleans, I have to rubber stamp what he said. This is a painful book but a necessary one. We must never allow ourselves to forget that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Unfortunately those who came before us in New Orleans had to deal with trauma, pain, and emotional shock and we become truly aware of human frailty, moral weakness, evil, and bigotry. It is not too late to accord those who needlessly died the honor they had in paving the way for the rest of us and they paid the ultimate price. “Tinderbox” will become even more important after we synthesize all that it has to say. I am in awe of the research that was conducted, I am in awe of the beautiful and informative prose with which it has been written and I am so glad that honor has been restored to a forgotten generation of civil-rights martyrs. We all owe Robert Fieseler a great deal for all he has done with this, his first book.
Butler, Isaac and Dan Kois. “The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America”, Bloomsbury, 2018. An Oral History of a Great Play Amos Lassen Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” is a moving account of the AIDS era, essential queer history, and an exuberant backstage tale. Those who have either seen it or been part of it, or both have been changed by the experience as we see here in the oral history of great American drama. “Angels in America” opened on Broadway in 1993 and won the Pulitzer Prize, swept the Tonys, launched a score of major careers, and changed the way gay lives were represented in popular culture. Mike Nichols’s 2003 HBO adaptation starring Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, and Mary-Louise Parker was itself a tour de force, winning Golden Globes and eleven Emmys, and introducing the play to an even wider public. Now some 25 years later, this generation-defining classic continues to shock, move, and inspire viewers worldwide. Isaac Butler and Dan Kois give us the definitive account of the play through oral history. We are taken into the conversations and debate of actors (including Streep, Parker, Nathan Lane, and Jeffrey Wright), directors, producers, crew, and Kushner himself. They share the on- and offstage excitement of the play’s birth. We now learn that it was beset by artistic roadblocks, technical disasters, and disputes both legal and creative. We hear from historians and critics who help to situate the play in the arc of American culture, from the activism of the AIDS crisis through civil rights triumphs to today and the dark echo of the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. If you love theater, you will love this book as it tells about one of the great works of American art of the past century that began with a gritty San Francisco premiere and is now a highly anticipated Broadway revival in 2018. Like a dramatic script, the book is divided into acts with chapters more like titled scenes and a cast of characters listed at the end. The interviews are presented so that they become an ongoing chat about the history, the themes and the continuous dialogue about the drama. The cast is made up of Kushner, the actors, directors, producers, and production teams, as well as the scholars, historians, critics, and fellow playwrights that did not just help to shape the work but who also provide context for its influence. We see all the twists and turns of fate that went into the drama’s creation and we get a sense of suspense and drama. Like the play, Butler and Kois let the complexity of the story come to us via conversations, discussions, and critiques from those involved. We become immediately aware of the sweeping scope of the production and the amount of deliberation and interpretation that went into it. The entire creative process is here beginning with Kushner finding a title for his masterwork to the dedicated early directors and actors that supplied his inspiration and helped realize his vision. The brilliant 2017 London production of the show is soon to open in New York and on Broadway this spring. Now, twenty-five years later, it’s Kushner’s vision of the Right that looks so true. We see that the America of Donald Trump is the same America of Roy Cohn. This America is deeply divided between “winners and losers, hatred of the powerless used as a cynical tool to enrich the privileged…” The real emphasis of “The World Only Spins Forward” is the emphasis on the drama as a “work of queer cultural history–both milestone and touchstone–where it ultimately succeeds.” The play grew out of the calamity and death with the AIDS crisis, an indifferent president Ronald Reagan, and a religious fanaticism that pretended not to see the horrors of AIDS while preaching intolerance and hatred. We go back to the Eureka Theatre Company in San Francisco in 1991 and to the Royal National Theatre, London in 1992, to the Mark Taper Forum in LA the same year, to Broadway from 1993–1994. We see the Culture Wars of the nineties. We learn that an early overture to Robert Altman to direct a film version of the play. We also get a behind-the-scenes look at the events which led to the 2003 HBO film and we read about the 2004 Peter Eötvös opera based on the play. We are reminded of the need to follow one’s truth in the face of oppression and intolerance
Ladin, Joy. “The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective “, (HBI Series on Jewish Women), Brandeis University Press, 2018.” A Bible For All of Us Amos Lassen I wait patiently for each new publication from a select group of writers. I cannot call them favorites because favorites change; I prefer to call them special. One of those writers is Joy Ladin. She has wowed me with her poetry and she dared to reach out with her memoir. Joy and I share the fact that we are both serious about our religion, Judaism and the important place it holds in our lives. What I really love about Joy is that she dares… and she succeeds. Like her writing, she is lyrical and elegant and I am proud that I know her. She has certainly dared with “The Soul of the Stranger” and I can picture the naysayers lining up. She gives us a very unconventional look at the Hebrew Bible and she is published by a very important press, that of Brandeis University. I love that the academic Joy Ladin is published by the academic Brandeis press. I heard over a year ago that this was a book that she was working on and as seriously as I wanted to know what she covered and how, I did not ask. I have always though of writing a book being akin to pregnancy. It’s a rough job that gets rougher when the outcome enters the world. Ladin explores how the experiences of transgender people and other “hyper-minorities” – people who are different in ways that set them apart from most members of their communities – can help us understand the holy writings and the difficult relations between God and humanity that we read in a good deal of the Hebrew Bible. Joy has her personal experiences as an openly transgender person at Stern College of Yeshiva University where she is both a hyper-minority as the only openly transgender person at her Orthodox Jewish university – and as someone who lived for decades as a middle-class white male. She looks at how the ways we relate to those we see as strangers affects the way we relate to the ultimate stranger, God. In order to explore basic and fundamental questions about religious texts, traditions and an understanding of God, Ladin returns to some of the best-known Torah stories and looks at them through a transgender perspective. We quickly see how the two can compliment each other. I devote an hour a day to studying Torah and it is during that hour that no outside forces are allowed to enter my world. I decided that I would try to use the hints I get here to read from a different perspective even though I am not transgender but feel comfortable in experimenting with new understandings. By using her own experiences and her reading skills, Ladin looks at the texts that seem to assume that everyone is one gender or another, male or female. Here we notice that the texts speak to practical transgender concerns as well and these include marginalization, and the challenges of living without a body or social role that renders one intelligible to others. These are challenges that can help us understand a God who defies all human categories. We gain new understandings and old ideas are transformed by a new kind of reading and understanding of the text. After all, God was creative and since we were created in his image, we can be creative too. We gain a new understanding of the way God is portrayed in the Torah and we see the relationships between these understandings. Joy Ladin writes from her heart and from the core of her being. In giving us new ways to see the holy texts, we see the Torah as a sensitive and dignified manuscript. I love that the journey we take here is both spiritual and intellectual. I found by following what is written here, my own relationships with others and God are changing. What we have is a two way street with the transgender experience shedding light on the Torah and the Torah shedding light on the transgender experience. Through this we see what it means to be a stranger and to see God as a stranger. The book opens with a transgender reading of the Genesis creation story that pushes against notions of inherent gender. In the next chapter we look at other stories in the Torah in which individuals temporarily exceed or question their traditional gender roles. (“Jacob’s outmaneuvering of his second-born status, Sarah’s belated pregnancy, and Isaac’s painful support for the patriarchal system that nearly kills him”). Ladin also looks at the voluntary Nazarite vow in Numbers 6 and Passover’s concern with the errors of either-or thinking that can serve potentially as models for accepting those who transition. She ends with “a chapter that uses both W.E.B. Du Bois’s theory of the hyper-minority and the Torah notion of stranger or resident alien to build persuasive ethical imperatives for both transgender and cisgender believers.” Ladin explores how her powerful connection with a God who is not intelligible in human terms helped her navigate her years of dysphoria and pain as she felt similarly unrecognizable to others. Now she introduces Jews and other readers of the Torah to new and sensitive approaches with room for broader human dignity. In the Book of Numbers, Ladin argues that the recurring conflicts between the Israelites and the God enshrined at the center of their camp resemble those experienced by human hyper-minorities and their communities. Even with God’s centrality to the Israelites’ lives, God is always seen by the Israelite community, as different in ways that are difficult to accommodate or understand. Using this perspective, we see God’s insistence that the Israelites identify with “strangers” by remembering that they “know the soul of a stranger” and experienced estrangement in Egypt. This gives us a communal spiritual practice that helps us to make a place, in our communities and in our lives, for God who is always the ultimate stranger. Here is the Table of Contents:
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Shipwrecked with God
  • The Genesis of Gender
  • Trans Experience in the Torah
  • Close Encounters with an Incomprehensible God
  • Reading Between the Binaries
  • Knowing the Soul of the Stranger
  • Notes
  • Index
Duberman, Martin. “Has the Gay Movement Failed?”, University of California Press, 2018. The Cost Amos Lassen I love to read anything that Martin Duberman writes and that is because of the way he structures his life. I find that every book is well written and educative. He might be shocking but above all else he is honest in his topics. This new book is bound to generate discussion.  We are certainly aware that in the last fifty years there have been significant shifts in attitudes toward LGBTQ people and wider acceptance of them in the United States and the West. Duberman states that the extent of this progress has been “more broad and conservative than deep and transformative.” He looks back over the fifty years since Stonewall and does so with an immediacy and rigor that both informs and energizes. He looks again at the early gay movement with its progressive vision for society and sees it as failing time and again to take on the queer potential for social transformation.  Duberman acknowledges the elimination of some of the most discriminatory policies that plagued earlier generations. The cost of this has been dear. We see the sidelining of radical goals on the way to achieving more normative inclusion and he shows us the fault lines both within and beyond the movements of the past and today. Yet Duberman is hopeful and urges us to learn from this history so that we can fight for an inclusive and expansive society. As a historian, Duberman’s voice has been our public conscience and reason regarding social issues and as a historian he brings a historian’s sense of where we have come from and how that relates and matters as to where we are. He analyzes progress while showing that marriage equality is not the only or even the main goal. The issues that are raised here are crucial and he wonders how the left can work with the activists today. Are we really proud of what the movement has done? To answer this Duberman takes us through culture, politics, science, technologies, legal strategies, and fundamental concepts of personal and political freedom and as he does, he finds what is wrong with the LGBTQ movement and why it has not fought for a comprehensive vision of freedom for everyone. He points to the missed opportunities and beyond and shows us an unfinished agenda. Yet he has hope and provides a way for us to use tactics that come out of love and emotion. Like Duberman, I have always felt that until we love ourselves totally and completely, nothing will ever be finished.
Faderman, Lillian. “Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death”, Yale University Press, 2018. A Gay Icon Amos Lassen I did not know Harvey Milk (like everyone else claims— well, maybe not everybody, just those thousands who claim that they were at Stonewall and Woodstock, etc.). I was already living out of the country when he came to be known and he was gone before I returned to this country. What I do know about Milk comes from reading and the excellent films about him. I cannot think of anyone who I would rather have tell me the story of Harvey Milk than Lillian Faderman since I have enjoyed all of her books… and besides we are both Jewish and gay (but she is famous). Harvey Milk was an elegant, eloquent and charismatic gentleman who had managed, practically on his own, to be elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Unfortunately for him and for us, he had not even been a full year in office when he was shot by a homophobic fellow supervisor. He was only 48-yeard-old and his death made him the most famous gay man of modern times. Milk was certainly influential and deeply loved and his loss of life was our loss of a very important friend. He had not set out to be a politician. He had been a teacher, a securities analyst, had worked on Broadway as a theater assistant and in politics for the election of Barry Goldwater. Milk opened a camera store in San Francisco and soon became a leader in his community. He let go of organized religion and rejected Judaism yet remained “deeply influenced by the cultural values of his Jewish upbringing and his understanding of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust”. He decided to run for public office as a champion of the LGBT community, racial minorities, women, working people, the disabled and senior citizens— those who were marginalized in American life. He worked very hard to become a successful public figure with a distinct political voice. This biography is part of the Yale “Jewish Lives” series and writer Faderman places emphasis on Milk’s Jewish cultural identity. He was twice an outsider— once for being gay and once for being Jewish. It is important to realize that his politics were influenced heavily by his family history and the basic tenets of Jewish liberalism just as they were by his sexual identity. Faderman did outstanding research to write this and then wrote the story in her beautiful prose, showing how his Jewish identity deeply informed his experiences and his politics. Faderman introduces us to a Harvey Milk as part of the larger LGBT community so we actually get two histories here. We read of political contradictions, “human peculiarities” while gaining an analytic look at the LGBT movement overall thus making this a comprehensive history of gay rights.
Daly, Anthony. “Playland: Secrets of a Forgotten Scandal”, Mirror Books, 2018. A Shocking Memoir Amos Lassen “Playland” is a shocking and important new memoir from Anthony Daly and I must say that as one who is not easily shocked, I was indeed shocked and surprised as I read this book. This is Daly’s voice as he relates to us from being part of a dark scandal in the heart of London’s Soho in the 1970s. Daly came to London as a way of escaping the trials of living in his native Northern Ireland. He got a job at Foyles Bookshop and began a new life in England. However, because he was naïve, he was soon dealing with predators who were looking for young men to blackmail and sexually exploit. The irony is that he left Ireland in hopes of a better and freer life and found one that was so much worse than he could have ever imagined. He was victim to sexual and mental abuse by some the most influential men in England and he was forced to hide it. However, as time passed, the trauma of it all became harder to contain as he witnessed other revelations of historic abuse coming to light on TV and in newspapers. Ultimately, the voice he thought he had lost was heard. For forty years, he had been silent and what he had to say was politically explosive. He has managed to tell all and to do so stylishly and with feeling (a feeling that I hope I never have). This is a haunting true story of a young man’s descent into a “hell designed to satisfy the powerful. A world which destroyed the lives of everyone involved. `[This is my] journey into a world of drink and drugs, a world of gangsters, rent boys, businessmen, politicians, pimps and pedophiles. Because of what happened to me and the fact that I kept a diary at the time, I am in a unique position to tell the real story of Playland.”
Finklestein, Avram. “After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images”, University of California Press, 2017. Never Forgetting Amos Lassen The AIDS epidemic is our Holocaust and we are beginning now to look back, albeit with tears in our eyes, and remember how things once were. In the last couple of years, there have been some wonderful writing about the terrible time and now we have a visual remembrance. In the 1980s when the epidemic was in its early years, one of the most important, iconic and lasting image was created by six gay activists, the pink triangle with the words “Silence=Death” below it came to symbolize our movement and the way we felt. I still have the same sensation today that I had back then when I see this. Avram Finklestein was back then co-founder and a member of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury. In “After Silence”, he shares the story of how his work and other protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic came to be. He gives us a different view of the traditional HIV/AIDS history and he does so by writing about “art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process”. It is a little over 25 years later and he uses the AIDS epidemic as a way to give us “ a creative toolbox for those who want to learn how to save lives through activism and making art”. Finklestein’s story is personal as he sees what happened through the eyes “of a key designer of a crucial political movement and [he]demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis.” This is a first-hand account of the beginnings and the use of the Silence = Death graphic and Finklestein shows how it was used by the AIDS Action Committee (that later became ACT UP). We also get a look inside of the collective Gran Fury and the various strategies and challenges that formed and informed their most successful campaigns such as “Read My Lips” and “Kissing Doesn’t Kill”. By reading this book, we better understand the politics of resistance and the impact of ACT UP in building a movement. Avram Finkelstein was a central figure in the image strategies that were developed and used by ACT UP and he is able to provide insights for the next generation of artist-activists who hope to transform our political landscape. This is an honesty and heartfelt look at defining our history with all of the complexities that are found in social movements. After the threat of AIDS began to subside, many writer were unable to write about it and didn’t. It is only now that those writers have decided to use their voices to tell how it was. This is a “one-of-a-kind book about the history of AIDS through its images that the world needs and has waited for.”
Lerner, Jonathan. “Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary”, OR Books, 2017. Youthful Radicalism Amos Lassen Jonathan Lerner’s memoir looks at his youthful radicalism. He is precise and unwavering about the cost of resistance and rebellion without sacrificing his idealism. Against the background of the Vietnam Era, Lerner looks a the impulses that led a small group of educated, privileged young Americans to turn to violence as a means of political change. He also shares the true story of an intellectually adventurous but insecure gay man who is immersed in the macho, misogynistic and physically confrontational environment of the Weathermen. Known as the Weather Underground, the Weathermen, or Weatherman unleashed a series of bombings across the United States that attacked the Pentagon, the Capitol Building, and the U.S. State Department, among many other places. At its height, the organization consisted of several hundred people, all committed to violent change face-to-face battles with the police. Lerner invented himself as “minister of propaganda” for the movement and participated in the Venceremos Brigade in Cuba and observed the Native American uprising at Wounded Knee. He later reinvented himself as a high-rolling gay hustler, His journey took from idealism to destruction and beyond. There have been others memoirs written by members of the Weathermen but none has explored the history of the group with such honesty as Lerner does. He was there and now sees the Weathermen very differently. He shares unbelievable true stories bringing us the closest we will ever be to revolution. Lerner’s life is an account of “idealism undercut by submission to a rigid ideology”. His perspective as a gay man is unlike anything we have ever read about the Weather Underground. This is , as Michael Bronski has said, “a brilliant and moving analysis of one of the most significant moments in American history”. It is written with passion and wisdom and is a self-questioning depiction of Lerner’s youthful radicalism. By telling his particular story of life at the far edge of the 60s and 70s counter culture, he is precise and unstinting about the wages of resistance and rebellion without sacrificing his continuing and moving idealism.
Clark, Tena. “Southern Discomfort: A Memoir, Touchstone, 2018. Coming of Age and Coming Out in Mississippi Amos Lassen The moment I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it. After all, I am from the South and although geographically I am now a Yankee, I will always be a southerner in my heart. “Southern Discomfort” is a memoir “set in rural Mississippi during the Civil Rights era about a white girl coming of age in a repressive society and the woman who gave her the strength to forge her own path—the black nanny who cared for her.” Tena Clark was born in 1953 in a small Mississippi town close to the Alabama border, where the legacy of slavery and racial injustice was everywhere. At first glance, her childhood sounds wonderful. Her father was one of the richest men in the state; her mother was quite a beauty. The family lived on a large farm and had the only swimming pool in town. Tena was a child of privilege. Looking deeper into the family, we see that Tena’s life was lonely and filled with chaos. chaotic. By the time she was three, her parents’ marriage became an alcoholic swamp filled with infidelity and guns. Tena also learned quite early that she was different from her three sisters and that she liked women. Her sisters had had been beauty queens and majorettes. “Tena knew she didn’t want to be a majorette—she wanted to marry one.” (I love this line). On Tena’s tenth birthday, her mother left her father because of his cheating and Tena was left in the care of her black nanny, Virgie, who became Tena’s surrogate mother and confidante. Virgie always had time for Tena even though she was raising nine of her own children. Because of Virgie’s acceptance and unconditional love, Tena gained the courage to stand up to her father, believe in her mother’s love, and the strength to be her true self. As I read, I could not help but see the similarities between Tena’s life and my own (and the lives of many people that I know). Tena’s family is more than just dysfunctional and we learn from it. We really see the complexities of people here and how the “old” South became the “new” South. Clark’s debut is an entirely original story in which she shares her deeply personal, private struggles and the painful, shameful struggles she was witness to in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era. We see that even when one lives in fear, anger, and hate that there can be tolerance, forgiveness, and love. Clark grew up in the Jim Crow South and really tried to be the person her family wished her to be but it wasn’t who she is. It was her strong sense of social injustice that compelled her to behave in ways that could have been dangerous, specifically for those whom she feels have been mistreated. I have to say that I love this book with the themes of racism, sexuality, family, and Southern complexities of the South. Tena Clark gives me the faith to believe that the legacy of Tennessee William’s South is still alive.
Patane,Vincenzo. “The Sour Fruit: Lord Byron, Love & Sex”, translated by John Francis Phillimore, edited by JamesR. Schwarten, Rowman and Littlefield, John Cabot University Press, 2019. An Emotional and Exotic Life  Amos Lassen In “The Sour Fruit”, writer Vincenzo Patane maintains that the emotional and erotic life of George Gordon, Lord Byron is a key element in understanding his powerful and passionate personality, as well as the society of his day. That society was scandalized by his behavior “even while being conquered by his extraordinary charm.”  This includes
Byron’snow generally acknowledged bisexuality in all its aspects, from his fleeting liaisons to his love-affairs, female (his half-sister Augusta, Caroline Lamb and Teresa Guiccioli) and male (John Edleston, Nicolo Giraud and Loukas Chalandritsanos).  
Patane gives us unusual and fascinating insights into Byron’s homosexuality, hitherto relatively unexplored, and reveals a more truthful picture of the poet. Byron was strongly attracted to boys, who are referred to in Don Juan as ‘sour fruit’. In his adolescence he had fallen for aristocratic contemporaries but would later be attracted to boys of a lower social station. He had several same-sex experiences in England that were encouraged by the circle he frequented at Cambridge, particularly his friend Matthews, as well as during his Grand Tour, during which he was able to freely live out behaviors frowned on at home.  

In early 19th-century England, homosexuality was a criminal offence punished with the pillory or even hanging, and Byron preferred to keep his transgressive experiences to himself or share them only with a small and restricted group of like-minded friends. There are numerous veiled references to the range of his tastes in his works and his letters that we are today better able to decipher. Innuendos are plentiful and point to aspects of his submerged life, to adultery, incest and, above all, homosexuality – and we can now more fully appreciate the wit of his letters as well as his love-poems. 

An appended chapter examines “Don Leon”, an anonymous work purporting to be by Byron himself and salaciously recounting his love-life, which was first published some forty years after his death and has been on more than one occasion banned for obscenity. 

“COLETTE”— A Story of Female Liberation

“Colette” A Story of Female Liberation Amos Lassen The film “Colette” that is based on the real life of the celebrated French author, is a story of female liberation.  During the Belle Epoque period in Paris at the turn of the 20th Century in society men were openly promiscuous and wives were expected to demurely look the other way. Colette, however,  had liaisons of her own and they were with women and she entered into them with her husband’s consent.
The movie starts with young Colette (Keira Knightley) still living at her home in the country now in with her fretful mother (Fiona Shaw) and war-hero father (Robert Pugh) in poverty.  She is courted surreptitiously by Henry Gauthier-Villars, aka  “Willy,” (Dominic West), a family friend, and even though he is just 20 years old and Colette has no dowry they end up married and moving to Paris. Willy was a popular author and critic whose work was provided by a  “factory” of writers that he mercilessly exploited.   Always living a lavish lifestyle way above his means, he was constantly broke, and one occasion he even forced, Colette to become part of his workforce.   He initially rejected her first novel as being too insipid but then demanded it a bit more spice.
This was the first of the Claudine books and was a huge success making Willy very rich and even more notorious. Refusing to share any of the success with Colette,  he did however buy her a beautiful cottage in the country, but purely as a means to ‘imprison’ her so that she could write another bestseller to be published under his name.  Although there were times like this when Willy bullied Collette, their relationship was never straight forward. There was a deep bond between the two of them,  and she never left him when she discovered his infidelities, although she did almost want to kill him when she discovered that he was also sleeping with her own lover Georgie Raoul-Duval (Eleanor Tomlinson).
It was Colette’s insistence that her name go on the latest book as co-author and this was the beginning of the end of her relationship with Willy.  Now in a relationship with the cross-dressing Mathilde de Morny, or Missy (Denise Gough) with whom she took up a career on the stage with and she finally got to publish her first novel under her own name.  Wash Westmorelanddirected the film that handled Colette’s same-sex relationships with clearunderstanding and sympathy and with no l sensationalism. Knightley gives an extraordinarily mature performance which could be her career best.  Her‘Colette’ was fiercely determined, independent, extremely relatable  and ajoy to watch.  She was matched beautifully by a boisterous performance byWest as her husband.  French novelist and feminist icon Colette, nee Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, has been fodder for abiographical film for some time. She was an institution at the time of herdeath in 1954, and her life was filled with enough glamor, struggle, andscandal to warrant the drama of this celebrity biopic. The film indulges insuch theatricality while delivering an acutely told story of the writer thatrelishes the messy details and ambivalences of her life.
Following Colette’s  formative years, from the mid-1890s until 1910, the film tracks her development from a penniless country girl to her rise to literary fame.  The film’s script is witty and basically focuses on the dynamismof Willy and Colette’s marriage, especially on their back-and-forths. Colette doesn’t stay under Willy’s shadow for long. Herpush for independence is encouraged by her affair with noblewoman and artistMathilde de Morny (Denise Gough), who goes by Missy and scandalizes France withher masculine dress and choice of male pronouns. Her romance with Colette is seenbut not in detail and the film regrettably makes Missy little more than amouthpiece for a modern perspective on Colette. The film is much too focused on Colette’sidiosyncrasies and personal struggles to cast her as a renegade who shook upthe status quo.  Westmoreland’s biopic brings more than a touch of camp to its dramatization of an unbelievabletrue story. It is a fun and that is all that it needs to be.

“Fascination: Memoirs” by Kevin Killian— How It Was

Killian, Kevin, “Fascination: Memoirs”, Durbin Andrew, editor, Semiotexte,2019. How It Was Amos Lassen Kevin Killian’s memoir is the story of gay life in 1970s Long Island by one of the leading proponents of the New Narrative movement.  “Fascination” brings together Killian’s early memoir, “Bedrooms HaveWindows” (1989)and a previously unpublished prose work, “Bachelors GetLonely”. These two when taken together show the author’s early yearsstruggling to become a writer in the sexed-up, booze and drug-ridden world ofLong Island’s North Shore in the 1970s. It concludes with Triangles in the Sand, a new,previously unpublished memoir of Killian’s brief affair in the 1970s with thecomposer Arthur Russell. This isa moving and often funny view of the loneliness and desire that defined gaylife of that era from one of the leading voices in experimental gay writing ofthe past thirty years. As we read, we relive the period.Killian’s memoirs propose that the project of remembrance isalso one of non-stop recall for non-stop pleasure. In the beginning of 1991, Killian was living near the Mission District on Minna Street. He was a poet and was married to the writer Dodie Bellamy. It was then that he helped found the New Narrative movement—a loose arrangement of poets and novelists centered around Robert Glück’s writing workshops at Small Press Traffic. New Narrative, emphasized critical theory and identity politics offered a fiction and poetry that took itself apart in order to make its inner and outer workings and worker transparent: it was a writing about the writer who’s doing the writing. Killian is content with memory’s ambivalences, its ambiguities, its moment of “I guess,” when the distinction between fact and fiction dissolves.  He replaces the epiphanic mode of storytelling with “a gorgeous turbulence, rather than some dramatic self-discovery.” The narrator in “Fascination”is both uncannily like its author. The three memoirs that comprise this collection follow Killian through his youthful into the excesses, heartbreaks, confusions that filled his world in the 1970s and 1980s.

“All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson” by Mark Griffin— Remembering Rock

Griffin, Mark. “All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson”, Harper, 2018.

Remembering Rock

Amos Lassen

It took a while but we finally have what is considered to be “the definitive biography of the deeply complex and widely misunderstood matinee idol of Hollywood’s Golden Age.” He was quite a man— beautifully handsome, broad, clean-cut. He was what represented the movies back then and we loved him. He was the “embodiment of romantic masculinity in American film” in the ‘50s and ‘60s”.

He was a fine actor and an Academy Award-nominated leading man. performances Hudson won acclaim for his performances in glossy melodramas like “Magnificent Obsession”, westerns like “Giant” and romantic comedies like “Pillow Talk”. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Hudson successfully moved to television and starred in the long-running series “McMillan & Wife” and had a recurring role on “Dynasty” and through them he met a whole new audience and generation. 

And it was onto only audiences who loved him; his colleagues did so as well. However that outward appearance hid his insecurities and conflicts. He grew up poor in Winnetka, Illinois, and was abandoned by his biological father, abused by an alcoholic stepfather, and controlled by his domineering mother. Even with obstacles that seemed to be insurmountable, Hudson was determined to become an actor at all costs. After signing with the powerful but predatory agent Henry Willson, he was transformed into “Universal Studio’s resident Adonis”. It was a different time back then—America was very conservative and the Hudson we saw on the screen was not the Hudson who was a closeted homosexual. Because of this and the fact that it is hard to keep secrets in Hollywood, Hudson was continually threatened with public exposure, not only by scandal sheets like “Confidential Magazine” but by a number of his own partners. For years, he dodged questions concerning his private life, but in 1985 the public learned that the actor was battling AIDS. Learning that such such a revered public figure had contracted the illness, the world became aware of the epidemic.

I have no own Rock Hudson story. When I lived in Israel, there were really no places for gay men to meet except for public parks. Hudson was in Tel Aviv preparing to film his last movie, “The Ambassador”. I came into the park and saw this very handsome man sitting on a bench and he looked very familiar to me. I am a shy guy so I did not approach him but waited till someone else did. This other person right away identified him and I realized who I was sitting close to. He was already sick by this time and while I would have loved something more intimate that an afternoon of coffee and chat, it was what I had. I suppose he felt that since the news about his sexuality was already out there that he could be who he was and go to the park. It was my luck to be there at the same time and Tel Aviv at that time having been a small and close gay community, everyone knew that I had spent the afternoon with the American movie star. (My mother could not wait to share this with her Mah Jong ladies.

Mark Griffin’s book draws on more than 100 interviews with co-stars, family members and former companions. “All That Heaven Allows” gives us a complete and nuanced portrait of one of the most fascinating stars in cinema history.

We get new details concerning Hudson’s troubled relationships with wife Phyllis Gates and boyfriend Marc Christian. For the first time there is an in-depth exploration of Hudson’s classic films. Griffin had unprecedented access to private journals, personal correspondence, and production files and he shares with us the idol whose life and death had a lasting impact on American culture.

This is more than just a book about one of the most determined and hard-working movie stars in the history of Hollywood, it is an in-depth look at America in the second half of the 20th Century.  Griffin did tremendous research and he brings together the American dream with tragedy. tragedy.  He reconstructs the charade that Hudson had to live because of his double life. The book shares  Hudson’s private life with great empathy. Hudson lived a double life in order to maintain his status as a movie star. Griffin’s sources are candid but credible and because of that this is a fascinating read. As a gay man, I had to live that way for several years and it is dishonest and it wears on us. We can only imagine how it affected Hudson as a person who was on stage every moment of his life.

“She’s My Dad: A Father’s Transition and a Son’s Redemption” by Jonathan Williams and Paula Stone Williams— A Father’s Confession

Williams, Jonathan S. and Paula Stone Williams. “She’s My Dad: A Father’s Transition and a Son’s Redemption”, William Knox, Westminster, 2018.

A Father’s Confession

Amos Lassen

Jonathan S. Williams was three months into pastoring a new, evangelical church when his father, Paul, confessed that he was transgender. His father was a prominent evangelical pastor who soon became Paula, and Jonathan’s life and ministry went into a tailspin. Jonathan felt betrayed by his mentor and confidante and scared that his church would lose funding and support if Paula’s secret was exposed. He sunk into depression and alcoholism.

“She’s My Dad” follows Jonathan’s long journey toward reconciliation, forgiveness, and acceptance of his father as well as his church’s journey to become one of the  fully LGBTQ-inclusive, evangelical churches in America. Jonathan and Paula provide insight and encouragement for those with trans family members and show us how to empathize with the feelings of loss and trauma and understanding that even being LGBTQ-affirming doesn’t mean the transition of a family member will be easy. Jonathan writes “of his family’s continuing evolution, the meaning of remaining loyal to one’s father even when she is no longer a man, the ongoing theological evolution surrounding transgender rights and advocacy in the church, and the unflinching self-scrutiny of a pastor who lost his God only to find God again in his father’s transition.” Of course, the message here is love and acceptance.


Jonathan Williams shares the story of his father’s transition and discusses its impact on his own life. Both parent and son, before becoming ministers, were involved in a church building organization, a movement within Evangelical Christianity, and they had both based their entire lives around the church. 
The story begins with the reader in the middle of issues with the description of Paula’s trip home to New York to come out to the family. This is a family full of pastors, all members deeply involved with their church. Paula, then Paul, recognizes this and describes his situation clinically, explaining that transgender identity is no longer recognized as a psychiatric disorder. Williams doesn’t tell us how the rest of his family responded, but he himself is shattered. He essentially goes through the different stages of grief as he struggles with losing his father.

“There’s no way to know how to react.  We now live in a culture where those who identify as being transgender receive greater support, but behind this there is a family that does not understand.
Paula’s story is fascinating in that she is a member in and a leader of an ultraconservative community. But this is not Paula’s story; it is Jonathan’s.

Paula, of course, immediately loses her job when she comes out as transgender and Williams recognizes and realizes that he too would lose his job if he “came out” as the accepting son of a transgender woman, so, at first, hides this from his church. He struggles to reconcile his relationship with his parent and with his ultraconservative community. He begins to drink heavily. He tells a select few people in his life about his parent’s changing identity but is disappointed when they focus on his parent’s side by celebrating Paula’s courage and perseverance.
What Jonathan is saying to us is that other people are affected by a transition and that today’s narrative does not include having one’s father, brother, sister, mother, child, or spouse become a completely different person on a neurological level. .
Williams’ relationship with his parent is strained in the months after Paula initially came out to the family, but he works through his feelings and eventually the two regain their close and loving relationship. Williams has to make some difficult career choices and eventually leaves the church-building community to focus on a progressive church that is welcoming to the LGBT community.

Williams goes on to discuss his ideas about reconciling his Christian faith with the need to love and accept his parent. It is awful and very sad that the Evangelical world has no place for people like Paula. Williams points out that the Bible only has a few passages that could possibly be referencing homosexuality (and actually do not reference it at all). By leaving his old community and career, Williams shows great courage.
The final section of the book discusses, in depth, certain passages in the Bible. “Williams puts the Bible in its proper context of an ancient text that should be treated as a living document rather than literal truth. He points to the US Constitution as another example: we should not take the words of eighteenth century white men as absolute truth but use it as a guide. He outlines some interesting theories about what those Bible passages that seemingly condemn homosexuality actually mean, and points to some similar passages that had one meaning thousands of years ago and a completely different meaning today, such as the Abraham/Isaac sacrifice story and passages condoning rape and slavery. This section of the book reads a bit like a Bible study, but Williams again demonstrates his strong sense of narrative structure by bringing us back to a final scene that mirrors a passage from earlier in the book, at a baseball game, where he concludes that he is at peace with his faith and that he and his parent have a wonderful relationship again.”

Anyone who has gone through the transition of someone they love should read this. In fact, everyone should read this.

“Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey” by Mark Very— A Remarkable Biography

Dery, Mark. “Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey”,  Little Brown and Company, 2018.

A Remarkable Biography

Amos Lassen

Mark Dery gives us the “definitive biography of the eccentric master of macabre nonsense.” Edward Gorey’s books have influenced our culture in innumerable ways. He is often referred to as the Grandfather of Goth. He was mysterious, and we have never known much about him until now. Gorey

lived with over twenty thousand books and six cats, Frank O’Hara and he roomed together at Harvard. In the late 1940s, Gorey walked around in full-length fur coats, clanking bracelets, and an Edwardian beard.  He was “an eccentric, a gregarious recluse, an enigmatic auteur of whimsically morbid masterpieces” yet who was the real Edward Gorey?

He published over a hundred books and illustrated works by Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot, Edward Lear, John Updike, Charles Dickens, Hilaire Belloc, Muriel Spark, Bram Stoker, Gilbert & Sullivan, and others. At the same time, he was a deeply complicated and conflicted individual, a man whose art was a reflection of his obsessions with the disquieting and the darkly hilarious.

This book is based on newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Anna Sui. We see his eccentric genius and mysterious life.

We now see that Gorey has been a critically neglected genius. He was a voracious reader. He took a book with him everywhere so that any time he found himself waiting in line or stuck in a boring situation he could pull out his book and take himself elsewhere. He had over 21,000 books in his library at his death. He watched over 1,000 movies a year. And was a huge fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, cats, and, Balanchine’s ballet performances. To list all the things he enjoyed would maybe be contained in a scroll ten feet long if one wrote them in small, spidery script. 

Gorey considered himself as asexual. He did not want to be pigeonholed as anything really. He was fussy about just being considered an artist when he really saw himself as a writer first. He was flamboyant in his appearance with wearing floor length fur coats year-round and wore sporting rings on every finger. Supposedly, there was a lot of gay coding into his artwork for book covers that he designed for writers. It seems that every crush that Gorey had throughout his life was some form of unrequited love for a member of the same sex. Gorey’s books were dominated by infanticides thus causing parents to be uneasy and making it hard for booksellers to categorize his work. The awkward size of his books was also difficult and forced many publishers to design counter displays for his books at the register.
Gorey’s interests were wide and varied. He was a Renaissance man, not only in talent but also in the way he found the world so fascinating. Mark Dery takes us on a journey into the development of a creative mind and introduce us to a man who figured out a way to live his life in the way he wanted to

Dery did amazing research and we see the man who really was, and wanted to be, an enigma. There is some pop-psychoanalyzing and some application of various social theories, but they are minimal and don’t really detract from the book. Dery does spend much time reviewing particular works of Gorey’s in relation to the period of life he was in and I can see how this could be frustrating. Gorey was a man devoted to his interests and obsessions, so in addition to a biography of Gorey, this book is also very much a biography of things, the things with Gorey loved or at least that held his attention.

“Almost Nothing: The 20th-Century Art and Life of Jozef Czapski” by Eric Karpeles— A Man of Many Lives

Karpeles, Eric. “Almost Nothing: The 20th-Century Art and Life of Jozef Czapski”, New York Review, of Books,  2018.

A Man of Many Lives

Amos Lassen

Józef Czapski (1896–1993) lived many lives during his ninety-six years. He had been a student in Saint Petersburg during the Russian Revolution and a painter in Paris in the roaring twenties. He was a Polish reserve officer fighting against the invading Nazis in the opening weeks of the Second World War and he was taken prisoner by the Soviets. He was one of the very few excluded from Stalin’s sanctioned massacres of Polish officers. He never returned to Poland after the war. Instead he worked tirelessly in Paris to keep alive awareness of the plight of his homeland that had been overrun by totalitarian powers. Czapski was a major public figure, but painting is what meaning to his life. Eric Karpeles shares Czapski’s full complexity, pulling together all the threads of this remarkable life.

 Today Czapski remains a little-known artist and writer who was on hand for some of the 20th century’s major events. A central episode in Czapski’s life was his internment in Russia before being allowed to go to British territory. He wrote about this in “Inhuman Land” which was just published by NYRB. In it, Karpeles sheds abundant light on this, giving us a nuanced portrait of a man of parts. A Zelig-like figure, Czapski is, by Karpeles’ account, ‘largely unknown to American readers and artists.’

Czapski was quite a man. He was a soldier, diplomat, aristocrat, writer, intellectual, and an artist. As an artist himself, Eric Karpeles, his biographer, is able to grasp him on his own terms. The result is that Karpeles’ engrossing book is part biography, part intellectual history, part personal memoir—and a “confrontation across time and across canvas of one artist with another.” Karpeles has written a beautiful and essential book.

Czapski’s story is epic and brings together “the brilliance and cruelty of the twentieth century with a steadiness of vision. Józef Czapski was a beautiful human being and one who was always ready to help friends and strangers. When his goodness came together with his artistry and intellectualism, we get a rare combination. He was an exceptional man living at a time of historical brutality.  Czapski’s writings were witness to twentieth- century history. Now we in the English-speaking world have a chance to get to know him.

“We: An Adoption and a Memoir” by Ben Barnz— Speaking in Simple Truths

Barnz, Ben. “We: An Adoption and a Memoir”,  Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2018.

Speaking in Simple Truths

Amos Lassen

Ben Barnz’s memoir, “We” is a story that is told in simple truths. We read about what it is to be a father, a son, a partner, an adopted family in a story that is filled with emotion and feeling yet there is also humor.

Writer Ben Barnz writes truth after truth about bringing a new child into this world and we see that this is always a complicated task, regardless of personal situation. Barnz’s heartrending honesty is about becoming yourself so your children can take their place in the world.” We are reminded of

the capacity of love. The story is told with beautiful honesty, vulnerability and humor. This is the story of “the author’s journey to fatherhood through the ups and downs of the complex adoption process.” We become aware of Barnz’s boundless love, reverence and uncommon honesty as he trods emotional path to parenthood. This is his story and he uses it to articulate “his very complicated, very human feelings about himself, his parents, his husband and the bizarre events that unfold after they bring their baby home.”