Raymond Willimas' Border Country is a superb novel. I'm surprised that it's not better known. How does one measure the lives of an individual and their community? Social science and theory render them abstract and general, like the mountaintop view of a farming valley, but a novel, such as this, can describe the minute but all-important particulars. The style is plain, as befits the "blunt truculence" of this Welsh village on the border with England, but it is always evocative; so much is said by not being said. The occasional lyricism takes off from the road and soar into the air. How does Matthew/Will Price go home after leaving it for London and a university lectureship? In his own words: "Only now it seems the end of exile. Not going back, but the feeling of exile ending. For the distance is measured, and that is what matters. By measuring the distance, we come home." The stories in Diane Oliver's Neighbors just got stronger and stronger as I r

"My Manservant and Me" and "The Gold Seekers"

 It is an odd experience to read these two slim books one after another, Hervé Guibert's My Manservant and Me (translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman) and Augusto Monterroso's The Gold Seekers  (translated by Jessica Sequeira). Both books were written towards the end of the lives of the acclaimed authors. Both play with the conventions of a memoir, Guibert by fictionalization, Monterroso by fragmentation. There the similarities end. Whereas Guibert focuses on the decrepitude of age and the ambiguous help that youth can give, Monterroso searches for the origins of things in childhood and the influence of the adults at the beginning. Not just the contents but the ambitions differ too. My Manservant and Me aims to be a small masterpiece, but The Gold Seekers , which covers only the first fifteen years of its author's life, ends intentionally incomplete. Although both books contains surreal elements, yet their approach is very different. Guibert gives a surrealistic twist to life, w

Under the Single Blue Dome

 Grateful thanks to Mitali Chakravarty for reprinting "The Ceramicist" in the World Poetry Day edition of Borderless journal , along with many fine contributions on the theme of refugees and migrants. Very aptly the contributions span the world. 

George Chauncey's GAY NEW YORK

 The full title of the book is  Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 . Subtle analysis combined with plenty of interesting detail makes this a terrific read. The style is not at all academic, and yet the rigor is so. The research into visual and textual documents held by a wide range of sources, such as purity movements, the police, local newspapers, doctors' reports, is impressive, and the documents themselves are read with sensitivity and insight. My biggest takeaways are (1) when the fairy, the emblem of the period, gives way to the gay, the view of queer men changed from being a gender status to a sexual identity, and (2) the notion of heterosexuality arose together with the notion of homosexuality, when the white middle-class men felt threatened by women's social progress and the fairies' increasing visibility. 

Straits Times Reviews SAMPLE AND LOOP

  Thanks, Shawn Hoo, for this lovely review of SAMPLE AND LOOP in Singapore's broadsheet, the Straits Times. "His signature sensitivity for rhythm and metre propels the book forward and it swells to a climax in The Dying Nurse. Always the reinventor, Sample and Loop sees Koh create a form that feels unique and accommodates the world of diasporic feeling in its roaming, roving expansiveness." The book is available online in Singapore at wordimagesg/product-page/sample-and-loop . It's also available in the US on  and Amazon .

In That Strange Place

 Weekly column written for the Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here . Every year I teach sonnets to my Grade IX students, and so every year I teach  Claude McKay . A Jamaican, an Afro-Caribbean, a leading light of the Harlem Renaissance, a Communist, a bisexual, he wrote not just poems of passion and protest, but also delightful novels about Black life in Jamaica ( Banana Bottom ) and America ( Home to Harlem ). One of my favorite poems of his is "The Harlem Dancer," where he finds himself in a highly pensive mood. Applauding youths laughed with young prostitutes And watched her perfect, half-clothed body sway; Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes Blown by black players upon a picnic day. She sang and danced on gracefully and calm, The light gauze hanging loose about her form; To me she seemed a proudly-swaying palm Grown lovelier for passing through a storm. Upon her swarthy neck black shiny curls Luxuriant fell; and tossing coins in praise, The wine-flushed,


 Recommended by Henry Abelove, it's an excellent read. In this mix of memoir and critical analysis, French sociologist Didier Eribon asks why he had not written before about his working-class origins when he had written extensively on the also-stigmatized identity of being gay. The flight from Reims, where he grew up, to Paris is, on the one hand, a fulfillment of gay desire and, on the other, an abandonment of his class. Insightful analysis of how the social worlds and identities we are born into—including the worlds of work, education, sports, and "culture"—predetermine so much of our life. They show us what is possible; they also don't show us what is possible. It is a violence inflicted on both gay and working-class people, giving rise to an abiding feeling of shame that we can try to rework politically into pride and action, but we can never free ourselves from. Perhaps I am too influenced by the generic conventions of a memoir, but I would have liked to learn mo