On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and decriminalised homosexuality, changing the lives of the LGBTQIA+ community in India. As we celebrate the first anniversary of this historic judgement, we must not forget that there are still many countries (almost 70) in the world that criminalise homosexuality. It is important to read literature which shows us what it’s like to be gay in countries where it’s illegal. This list features memoirs and novels written by LGBTQIA+ authors who hail from such countries. 

01

Funny Boy

Shyam Selvadurai

In Sri Lanka, same-sex relations are considered unnatural or indecent acts and are punishable by up to ten years of imprisonment and a fine. Selvadurai’s debut novel is set against the backdrop of the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict that led up to the 1983 riots and is a poignant coming-of-age story about growing up gay in Colombo. Arjie Chelvaratnam is considered ‘funny’ because he prefers to dress up like a girl and play “bride-bride” instead of hanging out with the boys and kicking balls around. As he grows older, he struggles to come to terms with his sexuality even as his world is torn apart by the unrest around him. Funny Boy is an evocative novel that merges the political and the personal through simple yet elegant prose.

Buy it here.

02

The Carpet Weaver

Nemat Sadat

Sadat’s debut novel, The Carpet Weaver, poignantly shows how difficult it is to grow up gay in a country where not only is homosexuality illegal and punishable by death, but gay men are called the derogatory term ‘kuni’ and are often disowned by their family and society. In 1977 Afghanistan, Kanishka Nurzada, a carpet seller’s son, finds himself falling in love with his best friend, Maihan. They must, however, keep their love a secret. When Afghanistan gets involved in a war, their life becomes even more complicated. The book follows Nurzada as he goes from Kabul to an internment camp in Pakistan, and finally, to the U.S.A., but he never stops pining for Maihan. This powerful novel from Afghanistan’s first openly gay native is heart-breaking but beautiful.

Buy it here.

03

An Arab Melancholia

Abdellah Taia, Frank Stock (Tr.)

Taia was the first openly gay Arab writer and hails from Morocco, which punishes ‘lewd or unnatural acts’ with a person of the same sex with a prison term ranging from six months to three years as well as a fine. An Arab Melancholia is an autobiographical novel that spans 20 years and traces Taia’s journey from growing up in Salé, to being exiled in Paris, to shooting movies in Cairo. Written in the stream-of-consciousness style, it is the “chronicle of a man who repeatedly searches for, finds, wrestles with, and loses love.” Melancholia isn’t just about the travails of growing up gay in Morocco, but also about love, which transcends sexual identities.

Buy it here.

04

Lives Of Great Men

Chike Frankie Edozien

Nigeria’s laws are particularly harsh on the LGBTQIA+ community. Not only does it penalise same-sex relations and marriages but even the discussion of LGBT rights and public displays of affection between two people of the same sex are criminal offenses. Punishment ranges from imprisonment to death, depending on the offense. Edozien’s LAMBDA Award-winning memoir, Lives Of Great Men, portrays what it means to be gay in Nigeria. Through his book, he shares stories of African gay men from around the world, and how they are trying to build their lives in an increasingly hostile society. He talks of Scott, his boyfriend; Kwabena, who lives in Accra and is determined to be true to his sexuality despite pressure from his family; and Amadou Diallo, the victim of a hate crime in 1999. Written with humour and pathos, this book is an ode to all the African queer men who persevere in creating a life full of love and hope, despite the odds.

Buy it here.

05

One Last Drink At Guapa

Saleem Haddad

One Last Drink At Guapa is the debut novel by Saleem Haddad who hails from Kuwait, where consensual intercourse between adult men is punishable by up to seven years in prison and those who imitate the opposite sex may be punished by one year in prison and/or a fine of 1,000 Kuwaiti dinar. The book unfolds over the course of one day and follows Rasa, a young gay man living in an unnamed Arab country. Rasa lives with his rather traditional grandmother and his only sanctuary is Guapa, a bar where queer folk can be themselves. He spends his days as a translator and his nights sneaking his lover into his room. One day, everything changes when his grandmother finds him in bed with his lover. Later, Rasa discovers that his friend Maj, a drag queen, has been arrested. Eventually, Rasa must decide whether to reject the notion of ‘eib’ (shame) or make peace with his identity as a gay man.

Buy it here.

06

Intolerable: A Memoir Of Extremes

Kamal Al-Solaylee

Al-Solaylee hails from Yemen where homosexual acts are punished with 100 lashes and one year in prison for unmarried men and death by stoning for married men, while women face a sentence of 100 lashes and up to three years in prison. The book follows Al-Solaylee’s family as they move from country to country, only to eventually return to Yemen. Ultimately AL-Solaylee “escapes” from life in the Arab world for a myriad of reasons, his sexuality being one of them. Intolerable is as much a coming-out story as it is the tale of a Yemeni family caught up in the politics of the region for over six decades.

Buy it here.

07

Oracle Bone

Lydia Kwa

Lydia Kwa was born in Singapore where same-sex relations are considered acts of gross indecency and are punishable by up to two years in prison. Set in 7th-Century China, Oracle Bone is a magical realist novel. As the empress Wu Zhao rises up the ranks in the Tang court, her lover Xie is searching for the oracle bone, a magical object that will make Xie immortal. However, Qilan, a Daoist nun with a mysterious power, is standing in his way. Meanwhile, Harelip, a young monk, is struggling with his faith and his attraction to other men. The first in a trilogy, Oracle Bone features strong women protagonists in an attempt on Kwa’s part “to subvert the dominant narrative”. The second book in the trilogy, The Walking Boy, follows Baoshi, a queer monk, who is charged with finding Harelip’s former lover, and explores LGBTQIA+ themes in more detail.

Buy it here.

08

The Clothesline Swing

Ahmad Danny Ramadan

Ramadan is a refugee from Syria, which punishes unnatural sexual intercourse with up to three years in prison. Inspired by One Thousand And One Nights, his multiple award-winning debut novel, The Clothesline Swing, is set against the backdrop of the Arab Spring and Syrian Civil War and spans Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, and Canada. The book follows two male lovers- one of them is a storyteller who narrates stories to his dying partner. Through these tales, we learn of the storyteller’s childhood, the persecution he has faced for his sexuality, of war, of leaving home, and of how he met his partner. Lyrically written, this book brings the experience of a gay Syrian refugee to life.

Buy it here.

Do you think it’s important to read books by LGBTQIA+ authors? Why? Do you know of any other books by LGBTQIA+ authors from countries where it’s illegal to be gay? Share with us in the comments below.

Devanshi Jain

Devanshi Jain

Devanshi has been reading ever since she can remember. What started off as an obsession with Enid Blyton, slowly morphed into a love for mystery and fantasy. Even her choice of career as a lawyer was heavily influenced by the works of Erle Stanley Gardner and John Grisham. After quitting law, and while backpacking around India, she read books on entrepreneurship, taught herself web design and delved into social media marketing. She doesn’t go anywhere without a book.

She is the founding editor of The Curious Reader. Read her articles here.