European Queer Literature: Some guaranteed tearjerkers
In the 20th century, a lot of quality queer literature came from the United States, with the likes of Audre Lorde, Christopher Isherwood, James Baldwin. But, in the past couple of decades, some of the biggest releases in fictional queer literature have come from lesser-known authors from Europe.
Here is a list of some of the standout European fictional releases this Pride month.
- Swimming in the Dark – Poland
Written by Tomasz Jedrowski and released in 2020, Swimming in the Dark became an overnight instant classic. In recent years, Poland’s LGBTQ+ community have seen their rights reversed, and with it, an increase in societal hostility. This context highlights the importance of queer representation in a country that is rejecting modernity and Tomasz Jedrowski’s book is a poignant statement that queer people contribute to Poland’s history and cultural identity.
The story is set in the early 1990s, amid the decline of communism. With this backdrop, Ludwig and Janusz meet at an agricultural summer camp, where political ideologies don’t exist and love quickly blossoms. Upon returning to Warsaw, the capital, oppression, religion and morality weighs heavy on the minds of Ludwig and Janusz, who start to become wary of each other’s political differences. Swimming in the Dark is an important journey into the role of the State in relationships and love.
- Lie With Me – France
Phillipe Besson is an award-winning writer from France. Lie with me is an incredibly moving book that looks back at the love affair between a young Phillipe and Thomas after the passing of many years. The retrospective style of this story helps carry strong themes of nostalgia throughout, adding an extra layer of heartbreak to a coming-of-age memory.
The book has been dubbed the ‘French Brokeback Mountain’ – not because there are gay cowboys frolicking in the wilderness – but because it has the ability to draw tears from the coldest of stones. Set in rural France in the 1990s, this short but punchy novel is guaranteed to make you reminisce for a moment in time that you never even experienced.
- Call Me By Your Name – Italy/Egypt
Call Me By Your Name is gearing up to be the most well-known gay love story of all time. Written by Andre Aciman, an Italian Jew born in Egypt, it follows the story of a young teenage Elio, who falls in love with his father’s student, Oliver. Set in the divine Italian countryside, the relationship blossoms into complete devotion after the long hot summer draws to a close. The book sensitively and subtly deals with some deep feelings of shame, lust and guilt, in a way that doesn’t detract from the wonders of falling in love.
In 2017, Italian film director, Luca Guadagnino turned the book into a movie, which became a huge success. Timothee Chalamet was cast as Elio, with Armie Hammer as Oliver. The chemistry between the two actors was electric, which helped secure the film as a cult classic in the LGBTQ+ community. Although the movie is sexy and immersive, the book hits harder in the feels.
- Young Mungo – Scotland, UK
Released this year, Young Mungo is the newest book on the list. It is penned by Douglas Stuart, the Booker-prizewinning author from Glasgow, Scotland. The story follows Mungo and James, two young men from the working-class neighbourhoods of Glasgow. Protestant Mungo and Catholic James aren’t meant to be friends, but their youth bypasses sectarianism and a beautiful love begins to grow. Young Mungo is an example of how difficult it can be to come to terms with your sexuality in the context of post-thatcher Britain, fraught with hypermasculinity, poverty and violence.
- My Cat Yugoslavia – Kosovo
The book is somewhat based on the life of the author, Pajtim Statovic, who moved to Finland with his family, following the outbreak of war in Yugoslavia. Statovic and his parents were ethnically Albanian, which meant that they were not safe in Kosovo, due to the persecution of Muslim Albanians in the region at the time.
Now in Finland, the main character, Bekim, is navigating the complexities of being a refugee and balancing multiple, and often conflicting, identities. The plot takes an unexpected turn when Bekim stumbles upon a talking cat in a gay bar, who decides to move in with him and his pet boa constrictor. The cat turns out to be quite homophobic and forces Bekim to delve deeper into his Balkan roots and sexuality. This unusual story will likely spark a thought-provoking inward journey, even though the plot may make you scratch your head on occasion.