Monday, 16 March 2020

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, illustrated by Anshika Khullar

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

“Who is the Black Flamingo? ... He is me, who I have been, who I am, who I hope to become. Someone fabulous, wild and strong.”

Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo is unlike anything else I have ever read - and I consumed it in two glorious gulps. A joyous celebratory prose poem, it follows the life of a mixed-race (Jamaican / Greek-Cypriot) gay man growing up in London – from a small boy longing for a Barbie to play with, through primary school and high school, to finding a home and family among the Drag Society at University.

It is a story of love and friendship, of acceptance and rejection. Of the complexities of identity. Of the intersections of racism and homophobia, and the strength it takes to overcome them and to be fully and freely yourself.

How to Come Out as Gay
Don’t come out unless you want to.
Don’t come out for anyone else’s sake
Don’t come out because you think society expects you to.
Come out for yourself.
Come out to yourself.

The simplicity of the language is deceptive. By allowing Michael/Michalis/Mikey/Mike to speak to us directly, in his own voice, whatever his age, Atta gives his words a heart-stopping immediacy, while at the same time exploring some profound ideas.

The text is dotted throughout with Anshika Khullar’s beautiful black and white illustrations, which seem to beckon you from page to page. There are WattsApp conversations and facsimiles of notebook pages. There are pages where the text is white on black.

An absolute joy to read – this is a book I’d like to put in the hands of every teenager and young person still trying to figure out who they are. It’s a celebration of acceptance, support and the pleasures of finding what Anna Madrigal would have called your logical family.

Longlisted for the 2020 Jhalak Prize.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Perseverence by Raymond Antrobus, Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, Moonlight (film)

Avoid If You Dislike: Prose poetry. Explorations of gender and sexuality (but I’d say give it a try anyway – you may surprise yourself!)

Perfect Accompaniment: Back to Black by Beyoncé

Genre: Defies classification. Poetry. Lit Fic. YA. LGBTIAQ+

Buy this book here

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