Maliha Momtaz Oishi
Literature is much more than just pretty words crafted by bespectacled authors deep in thought, sitting in dimly lit rooms with one leg over the other. The objective of literature is to encapsulate raw emotions, to give the reader a push to envisage ideas of their own, and nothing serves this purpose better than gripping narratives about war.
Such stories are powerful artillery that take us out of the fantasy world and into a gritty one where there is no filter. When told by someone belonging to a minority group, they have an even heavier impact because the narrators are at war with society their entire lives for a whole host of other reasons, thus making their accounts exceptional ones.
Following August’s theme, here are five book recommendations about war written by POC and LGBTQ+ authors to celebrate their remarkable contributions.
Home by Toni Morrison
TW: Mentions of death, murder, violence
“Since you’re set on telling my story, whatever you think and whatever you write down, know this: I really forgot about the burial. I only remembered the horses. They were so beautiful. So brutal. And they stood like men.”
A novel by the legendary Toni Morrison which follows the journey of an African-American Korean war veteran Frank Money, on a path of healing and exploring his manhood. It starts out impactful, depicting a scene of children witnessing the burial of a man — perhaps alive.
As the book progresses, Morrison shows us the atrocities of war, racism, and police brutality through the eyes of a black man in the ’50s. One drawback is that there’s simply too much to be packed into a mere 145 pages, which is why the characters may not have been fleshed out very well — but for readers who aren’t willing to greatly commit themselves to a new book yet, this short novel is a great fit.
The Wars by Timothy Findley
Penned by award-winning, queer author Timothy Findley, The Wars is a novel that follows a 19-year-old Canadian named Robert Ross who enlists in WWI, trying to escape from the ghosts of his dead sister and free himself from the shackles of normative Victorian society. The writer paints a picture so vivid of the jarring circumstances of World War I, through photographs, articles, and interviews of those associated with the protagonist, that it is likely to make the reader feel as though they were on the frontlines, battling it out in a field of adversity.
Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival by Amin Saikal
This book is written from the perspective of an insider, Amin Saikal, who has first hand experienced the turmoils of the war-torn state of Afghanistan. He provides us with an insight into the nation’s susceptibility to chaos, evident from the blows she has taken from the Taliban regime, US invasion, Soviet invasion, and Pakistani conflict. Modern Afghanistan is an account of all the historic events that have taken place in the country. If you’re familiar with titles such as Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan by Olivier Roy or The Fragmentation of Afghanistan by Barnett R. Rubin, you’ll find this book worth reading.
The Rape Of Nanking by Iris Chang
TW: Mention of rape, violence, murder
The best-selling book by author, journalist, and political activist Iris Chang, sheds light on the Sino-Japanese war — an issue that the international community had remained silent on for decades. It spares no detail about the heart-wrenching war crimes inflicted on 300,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians by the Japanese troops, so it may be hard to read for many. This is an amazingly well-researched book, with Chang attributing 50 pages for references alone. The author committed suicide at the age of 36; many speculate that it was due to the knowledge and trauma she bore regarding the pillaging of Nanking.
My Queer War by James Lord
The book is a memoir of James Lord, centering his days as a closeted gay serviceman in WWII. It’s a personal and candid record of the experiences of raconteur James Lord at the crux of the most devastating war that history has ever known. The book is a fusion of the brash realities of the battlefield with a dose of eroticism; it also contains themes of friendship, self-exploration, and maturation.
Maliha binge watches bad reality TV when she’s not busy laughing at men’s rights activists.