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This piece is airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

(TWO is the first international LGBTQ radio news magazine.)

 

Heaven is to Your Left Juliana Series: Book 4 (1956)

by Vanda

Sans Merci Press

If you dissect the word history, you will find that most of the word is story.  As for the prefix “his,” it can be replaced with any and all gender pronouns. If you look at U.S. LGBTQ history before the Stonewall Inn Rebellion in 1969, which lasted for six nights, when queers of all stripes stood up against a routine police raid and launched the modern LGBTQ movement, you’ll find it scant with invisibility – and survival – as its goal.

Reading Heaven is to Your Left, the fourth installment in the Juliana Series by Vanda (Sans Merci Press) is what prompted me to think about our history. The novel is set in 1956. The fact is that we have a history even if most of it was erased.  As a lesbian writer, I often think of the advice from the French author and pioneering lesbian-feminist thinker, Monique Wittig, who wrote, “Remember, Or, failing that, invent.”

Monique was telling us how to find our history.  In this fourth installment of The Julian Series, which can be read on its own, a lesbian love story is set against the historic backdrop of life in 1956. It is rife with specific detail of place such as snowflakes falling on your face in New York City.  It also contains just enough historic detail of that time (including the news that U.S. Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus in the mid-1950s).

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The novel tells us that at the same time, it was illegal for LGBTQ people – labelled “Queers” and not in a positive way – to exist.  The subtext of the novel tells us something more important – not only did we exist but we were part of history. When the two women return from a time in Paris to New York City, they are grappling with the reality of being blackmailed by someone who has found out about the fact that they are lovers. Juliana, who is an internationally known singing sensation, is lovers with Al, short for Alice, who has put Juliana on the map.

Vanda deftly writes about Al looking at Juliana in a passage that basically says it all:

“She moved toward the center of the stage, and my heart fluttered to the sound of her heels lightly clicking against the wood. She had her hair done up in a bouffant. And, oh, how lovely she looked in her Evan Picone pencil skirt and double-breasted blouse, the pointy collar sitting up against her neck, highlighting the short hair in back and the small silver earrings sitting delicately on her earlobes. I wanted to run up on stage and pull her into my arms and . . . She wasn’t even looking at me. I wondered if she knew I was there, but . . . No, we couldn’t risk even a careless glance among our own. The whole world had suddenly become more dangerous.”

As the story came to its inevitable conclusion, it landed on me with an emotional thud. There is a term in creative writing called an emotional reality, and this is an example of it. In my reader’s mind, Alice and Juliana existed even though they were fictional characters. On a deeper level, this means that we existed.

 

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To read Vanda’s review of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon) click here.

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Note: This piece is airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

(TWO is the first international LGBTQ radio news magazine.)

When I heard that the lesbian writer Vanda had a new book out, book three of her Juliana Series, I was very excited.  You see, I love historic novels and when a historic novel is written by a lesbian and includes lesbian characters that makes me very happy.

Vanda three

Paris, Adrift is the title of Vanda’s newest novel, and it may be written as the third book in a series, but it can be read on its own.  At the same time, there are allusions to previous circumstances that were in the early novels, that the reader all the entire series will get.  And if that reader is like me – who has read the series as the individual books were published – this means that the characters are even more real. They have become people with histories – backstories that make the novel I am reading even more complex.

The two main characters Alice (Al) and Juliana, a famous singer whose career Al is managing.  The two women are also lovers.  They are from New York City and when the novel opens in 1955, they are taking an ocean liner to Paris where Juliana is booked to sing in nightclubs.

The tenor of the times – which are so real that Al and Juliana experience blackmail – reveal to the reader that intense homophobia is as alive and well in Paris as it is in New York.  Vanda writes a passage from the point of view of Al that sadly echoes sentiments that I have heard in the not so distant past:

Of course, Max would have no choice but to fire me.  I’d lose all my clients. Who’d want to be represented by a mentally disturbed, potentially criminal, unnatural woman? A thing. I’d lose my gay clients too, like Marty. It would be too dangerous for him to be represented by me.  I’d never work again, at least not in show business or government or civil service; Is there anything left?  I’d be poor again. Maybe scraping by in low level jobs like my father.  I’d hate that.  I did have savings and stocks so I could hang on for a while. But my work in cabaret. I must have that. It was my life.  Still – I’d survive it.  Somehow. But Juliana….? She was used to being adored. If it came out that she was … The worst for me would be that this would most likely be the end of us, and that I didn’t know how I would live through.

The novel takes the reader through history – a factually accurate history – that provides for plenty of interesting asides and insights. But ultimately it is a love story between these two women Al and Juliana – and it is a tale of how their lesbian love which must remain hidden is able to survive.  As Vanda writes:

Oh, there have been a few women like us who lived in Paris somewhat openly; women artists who were already considered odd like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.  They weren’t really accepted by most, merely tolerated.  Many others who came here to write or be artists kept their relationships secret. No. I don’t think we’ll ever be treated like everyone else.”

    “Then let’s stay here all day and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. “

     She kissed me, and we made love again.  Everything would have been perfect …. [except]

 

There has been much written about the importance of telling our stories.   For me, as a member of the lesbian community, as someone who recognizes that our stories are so often marginalized and dismissed, the importance of telling our story – especially in an historic novel in a lesbian context – is proof that we do exist and, in fact, have always existed.

 

To read my review of Vanda’s first book in the series, Juliania, click here.

To read my review of Vanda’s second book in the series, Olympus Nights On the Square, LGBT Life in the Early Post-War Years (1945-1955), click here.

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders

 

 

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