Glad about the boy
In deeply patriarchal, devoutly religious Nigeria, traditional gender roles are expected and enforced. Since 2014, same-sex affection in public can mean a decade in prison. In that context A Nasty Boy, a new online magazine, is bold, even revolutionary. It features stylish shoots that would look at home in many of the world’s high-end fashion publications. A young man (main image) wears winged eyeliner, black-tipped fake nails and glitter. Muscular male models laugh, comfortably draped over each other. Despite some homophobic comments, it has been praised in local newspapers and blogs. It isn’t yet available in all good newsagents, but by starting conversations about “otherness” it is an important step for those Nigerians who tread outside the strict lines drawn by their society.
Shaken and stirred
Thousands of barrels of ink were spilled after the earthquake in Mexico in September that killed 369 people. But few people gave words to the collective anguish more strikingly than Juan Villoro, an author and commentator. His poem, “El puño en alto” (The raised fist) was published in the opinion pages of a major newspaper as rescuers toiled frantically to save lives. “You are from where the earth opens and people gather,” Villoro told his readers. “It hurt a part of the body that you did not know existed.” The title evokes solidarity, but also alludes to the signal made at the site of collapsed buildings to demand silence as rescuers listened for trapped survivors. An accompanying video on Facebook was viewed 3m times.
A little red book of his own
At the five-yearly congress of China’s Communist Party in October, President Xi Jinping was recognised as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Now, a book about the president’s youth has become a must-read for party stooges. The 450-page “Xi Jinping De Qi Nian Zhiqing Suiyue” (Xi Jinping’s seven years as a sent-down youth) is a collection of adulatory interviews with people he met when, like millions of other students, he was sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Filled with tales of the harsh conditions Xi endured – living in a flea-ridden cave, eating coarse grains – the book is intended to show how his ordeal steeled him to become the strongman he is today. Meetings are being held across the country to study it as a “lively textbook for building up correct values”.
The pain in Spain
Catalan nationalists are loud right now, but Spain is used to separatism. Basques fought the centralising power of Madrid for decades, a subject poignantly explored by Fernando Aramburu in “Patria” (Homeland). His novel follows Bittori, a Basque woman whose husband was murdered by ETA militants. Returning to her village, Bittori forces her neighbours to reflect on the dreadful power of political fanaticism. Aramburu is keen to link his story to contemporary problems. As in the Basque country, one “small incident [in Catalonia] could result in a collective tragedy,” he says. These comparisons have turned “Patria” into a national phenomenon. It sold 18,000 copies in a single day in Barcelona, and a TV adaptation is in the works.
Until recently, Germany’s savage conquest of Namibia has been little discussed outside the country. After decades of European amnesia, the first novel from University of Namibia Press, “The Lie of the Land” by Jaspar David Utley offers a tentative reckoning with this murderous past, focusing on a cynical British agent caught between German atrocities and a relationship with a Nama woman. The Namibian newspaper called it “riveting”. Last year the German government used the word “genocide” for the first time to describe the campaigns between 1904 and 1908, in which tens of thousands of indigenous Herero and Nama people were shot, starved and banished to the desert in the name of imperial expansion. But an official apology promised before September’s general election has been delayed yet again.
The most controversial book in Ukraine recently is a picture book. “Maya ta yii Mamy” (Maya and her mummies). Larysa Denysenko, a children’s-rights activist, reveals what the turmoil in Ukraine means for a diverse class of primary-school children. Many have disheartening stories: a father lost at war or “skype-parents” working abroad. Others, like Maya, have unusual family structures. Ms Denysenko explains, somewhat heavy-handedly, that all are equally worthy of happiness. But the title story has struck a nerve. Nationalists decried “promoting non-traditional families in times of war”, forcing Ms Densyenko to withdraw from a literary festival. But the threatened publishers have responded by making the book freely available online.