Today’s review was brought to you by the generosity of James Welker, one of the editors of Queer Voices From Japan: First Person Narratives from Japan’s Sexual Minorities. It’s not a typical sort of book for me to read or review here, but it fit with the “gender identity” theme – and indeed, is the last of the bunch – and I was very glad to have been given the opportunity to read it.
I am not usually an ardent reader of GLBT history books. Not for any particular reason, they just never appealed much. And to be honest, I probably would not have picked this book up on my own. But having read it, I’m *really* rethinking that position. I may have to go back and start looking at some of the more notable nonfiction narratives of GLBT history.
In particular, I found the early sections of the book which dealt with WWII and earlier, incredibly compelling. In such a short book it was amazing to see how not only language, but thoughts, ideals and even hopes and dreams changed so radically among the members of various sexual minorities. Some of the narratives were more interesting than others, of course, but many read almost like fiction (which doesn’t sounds like a compliment, but *is* meant as one,) to me. I found myself staying up much too late to complete the chapter at hand, then a little later to read the next one…”just a few pages more….”
The book does not have an editorial agenda except, as is plainly stated, to bring the voices of these narratives to a wider audience. Whether I was reading a wartime story of S&M between soldiers during the “Manchurian campaign” or a story of a “romantic dandyism” I just found these men and women, and those who lived their lives somewhere not one or the other entirely…or, in some cases both…just *so* interesting. In fact, now I kind of feel like a doofus for avoiding these kind of stories for so long. ^_^;
None of the personal narratives seemed especially shocking to me, and almost none of them really touched any of my own buttons until towards the end of the book: A fairly recent interview with a Ni-choume bar owner that I felt was one of the most insightful, intelligent and fun chapters in the book. I found myself just nodding again and again at his comments. He echoed my own thoughts about so many things that it became a bit creepy. ^_^
Overall – 9
The book sets out to give voice to the sexual minorities in Japan, but I think it actually succeeds in giving voice to sexual minorities worldwide. I would not hesitate for a second to recommend this book to anyone, simply on the strength of the narratives and the personalities behind them. It’s pretty much a must-read. ^_^