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September/October 2005 | 39 Literary Getaways

September/October 2005 | 39 Literary Getaways

Queer literature has exploded in the past 15 years to include a whole modern pack of terrific releases that further expand our gay horizons. Pack one of these books on your next trip to delve deeper into a place.

Bursa, Turkey


Picador, 2003

In this Pulitzer snatcher, XY-chromosomed Calliope seduces a girl she calls the Obscure Object of Desire, then morphs into medical plaything, underage stripper, and handsome bureaucrat. It all begins in 1922 at the western end of Asia’s Silk Road in the labyrinthine market city of Bursa, Turkey. Here, sibling silk merchants grow mutually infatuated before escaping war, marrying on a transatlantic voyage, and passing on a recessive gene for hermaphroditism.

Santiago, Chile

Flesh Wounds and Purple Flowers

Arsenal Pulp, 2001

Camilo crosses borders, from furtive adolescent encounters with Santiago’s 1970s Pinochet soldiers to illegal Canadian immigration. He returns to the increasingly open gay scene in his contemporary hometown: “The patrons, whose silhouettes were shattered by violent strobe lights, looked like ghosts boogying in a fog of smoke and dry ice”—a moment of eerie beauty in this gritty AIDS elegy.

Los Angeles


Akashic, 2003

Lesbian law student Jackie Ishida doesn’t dig her heritage, but an enigmatic name in her grandfather’s will pulls her through Los Angeles’s history to the family’s old hood of downtrodden Crenshaw, with stops in Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Boyle Heights, and Echo Park. The resulting whodunit, pregnant with the traumas of internment, racism, and riots, inverts our girl’s world.

Funny Boy

Harcourt Brace, 1994

An effeminate child banished from both girls’ and boys’ games, Arjun conspires with two women navigating the growing rift between the Tamil minority and Sinhalese majority: Radha, whose interethnic tryst sends her into nearby exile and the hands of a mob; and Arjun’s mother, whose lover dies investigating police torture. As our Tamil protagonist falls for a Sinhalese schoolmate, this lush ocean-side capital bends under fear’s weight during the island’s 1980s conflict.
New York City

Invisible Life

Anchor, 1991–1994

Raymond Tyler Jr. is a closeted bisexual black lawyer working in a posh Manhattan firm; troubled by bigotry,
he shuttles from Harlem’s Canaan Baptist Church with his beauty queen girlfriend to an upper west side bed with his married male lover. In between, you glimpse landmarks like the swinging Cotton Club and pickup joints like the (now defunct) Nickel Bar.


Washington Square, 1993

In a neon-flushed Tokyo of drag bars, incense, and stainless steel knives, orphaned amateur chef Mikage is taken in by a friend and his entrancing transsexual mother. In Shinjuku (Tokyo’s gay district), Mikage treks through busy Chuo Park past glass-and-granite towers, gazes from a high-rise window at cars “like a phosphorescent river flowing through the darkness,” and finds relief from mourning in Asian kitchens from which fresh steam rises like a halo.
Xi’an, China

When Fox Is a Thousand

Arsenal Pulp 1995–2004

A trickster fox spirit haunts the concubines and wives of ninthcentury Changan (now Xi’an), China’s imperial capital for 11 dynasties. Fox celebrates her 1,000th birthday in a dark tryst with Chinese-Canadian woman Artemis Wong, who like the Fox harbors mysterious connections to the Tang Dynasty’s poetess, convicted murderer, and Taoist priestess Yu Hsuan-Chi. You’ll glimpse her world of mysticism and faith at the lunar-month festivals of the millennium-old Baxian Gong temple and monastery.

The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon

HarperPerennial, 1991

“Excellent, Idaho, is where this all happened,” begins half-native hooker and storyteller Duivichi-un-Dua (a.k.a. Shed). It’s in the rugged frontier landscape north of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains that a multiracial town of hookers, miners, and herbalists is brutally remade as a Mormon settlement, and teenage Shed takes up with a bisexual mystic and cowboy who he suspects is his father.

San Francisco


Seal, 2000

Poet and former hustler Michelle hooks up with knife-wielding Petra, inaugurating a roller-coaster year of love and promiscuity centered in the Latin-infused Mission District. Our heroine careens down Valencia Street into the city’s clubs and also parades down 18th Street on pride weekend in true S.F. style, “with a brand new girl and a 40, while the June sun was high and shining.”

I Am My Own Wife

Cleis, 1992–1995

Taking a leaf from her butch aunt’s resistance book, teenage Lottchen kills a Nazi: her father. In crumbling East Berlin, she then finds her calling: salvaging turn-of-the-century (Gründerzeit) artifacts and becoming her own woman (an 1880s-style housewife) as well as a transgender hero. In the green easternmost section of Hellersdorf, the birthplace of Germany’s postwar gay movement embodies Charlotte’s passion for preservation in times of legislated amnesia.

29 Other Queer Classics of Time and Place


Captain Ahab and his seamen chase a sperm whale around the Pacific.

For the Pleasure of His Company: An Affair of the Misty City

Homo autobiographical story of manlove in prequake San Francisco.

Italian Hours

The queer author's essays on Italian travel in the early 20th century.

Death in Venice

Beauty, obsession, decadence, and disease set in a sinking city.


Priggish Maurice has a sexual awakening in the United Kingdom's Cambridge.

Passenger to Teheran

Virginia Woolf's lover's travelogue of a four-month journey through the Middle East.


Gender-bending reincarnation over 300 years in England.

Paris France

Franco recollections from Alice B. Tolkas' gal pal.

The Condor and the Cows

South American travel diary of Isherwood and lover, Bill Caskey.

The Sheltering Sky

Sexual and spiritual ambiguity in desolate postwar Algeria.

Forbidden Colors

A dark and homoerotic Great Expectations set in '50s Japan.

Giovanni's Room

The passions of American expatriates in post-World War II Paris.

Big Sur

Alcoholism and tangled desires in mystical Northern California.

Myra Breckinridge

Transgender surrealism in '60s psychedelic Hollywood.

Kiss of the Spiderwoman

Argentine prisoners wax romantic about cinema and fall in love.

Tales of the City

Turbulent Technicolor '70s San Francisco comes alive at 28 Barbary Lane.

Rubyfruit Jungle

Outrageous tale of a sexually liberated young lesbian trickster in New York City.

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

Lorde writes of her cultural heritage from the Caribbean island of Grenada

Prisoner of Love

Profiles of the all-male culture of Palestinian soldiers in Jordan and Lebanon.

The Swimming-Pool Library

Life in the lively lavatories of London before the onset of AIDS.

The Songlines

The gay travel writer's sojourn through aboriginal Australia.

Bastard Out of Carolina

Sexual abuse and awakening in the impoverished Deep South.

Volleyball With the Cuna Indians

Travel adventures by the godfather of gay tour operators.

A House on the Ocean, a House on the Bay

Picano's memoir of post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS Fire Island.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

"Hiding your candy" becomes the catchphrase of Savannah.

The Married Man

A gay couple's tragic retreat to Venice, Key West, Montreal, and the bleak Sahara.

Men Who Loved Me

Our hero, Ambidextrous, discovers Europe--and his homosexuality--in the frenetic '60s.

Cleopatra's Wedding Present

The late author's homo memoirs of travels in Syria.

The World: Travels 1950-2000

Essays from the global pursuits of the famous transgender author.

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