JOHN R. GORDON'S NEW NOVEL, Souljah, comes with an unusual gimmick: A movie trailer. That's because a blistering short film of the same name (starring Ludvig Bonin and Nathan Clough) has recreated a key sequence from early in the novel. You can head over to YouTube and watch it right now. I'll be waiting here until you get back.
Done? Did you enjoy that? Did it make you want to find out what happens next?
This wonderful little short is just a hint of the rollercoaster ride Gordon takes us on with Souljah, which oscillates between horror, comedy (one of the most grimly funny sex scenes you'll ever read), tragedy, and in the nail biting climax - which takes us on a heart-stopping night chase through London's streets - thriller.
"When violent thug Evill and his drug-dealing South London crew menace Stanlake, a young African refugee, and his mother Poppy, little do they realize that this effeminate youth is a former child soldier, capable of the most extreme responses. Forced to meet violence with violence, Stanlake stands up to his tormentors, only to find himself drawn into a darkly erotic and passionate relationship with the damaged, closetted Evill. As love begins to bloom between the two deeply-scarred young men old evil erupts, threatening to consume them both and compelling Stanlake to face – and move beyond – his past."
Souljah takes us back to when Stanlake was growing up, before, and most gruelling of all, during his time as a child soldier. Anyone who's seen Johnny Mad Dog will know what to expect: a catalogue of dehumanising horrors, that play out in a hyperreal, dreamlike fashion. It's Lord of the Flies, boys doing things they really shouldn't. Author Gordon doesn't allow us to look away from the spectacle, except to juxtapose 21st century London. And it turns out it's no less brutal than the war zone Stanlake is fleeing from.
In a way, Souljah echoes Gordon's brilliant 2012 novel Faggamuffin, which saw a gay Jamaican fleeing "the most homophobic country in the world" (a title now hotly contested by a number of African countries). In that novel, we saw London through a Yardie's eyes. With Souljah, Gordon goes even deeper; Stanlake must find his place in a world that is completely alien to him, and endure the dehumanising process of seeking asylum. It's a privilege for us, the readers, to witness. Painful, but a privilege, nonetheless.
But it's not all doom and gloom. Stanlake's - and his mother Poppy's - observations about modern Britain are often amusing and on the nail, and his slowly blossoming relationship with Evill a joy - albeit one that constantly feels like it might be crushed by the ugliness around it. But Gordon doesn't go in for cheap tragedy, a trope beloved by so many gay writers and filmmakers. Souljah brims with optimism and hope, despite the horrors adeptly recounted within its pages.
So it's a shame that, despite its depth and power, you probably won't hear about Souljah in the gay press. This month's Attitude has previews of books about Oscar Wilde, and the latest from the lady who wrote Tipping The Velvet;The Advocateis similarly backward looking and whitewashed. The stories of black gay men don't seem to be of interest to the gay powerbrokers.
That's a real injustice, because this is a story that deserves everyone's attention. Souljah is truly breathtaking, in scale, and in ambition. At times, the book had me crying like a baby. The book's final act escalated so rapidly I just couldn't put it down. I had to know how Stanlake and Evill's story ended. You will too. Be a soldier for the good guys: go out and buy Souljah. You won't be disappointed.
Souljah is out on Monday 22nd September 2014.
Read our exclusive interview with author John R. Gordon.
< Brazil: This is eighteen-year-old João Antônio Donati. His body was found in a vacant lot in the Brazilian city of Inhumas, his neck broken. Police are investigating the possibility that he was murdered in a homophobic hate crime.
< Colombia: This is sixteen-year-old Sergio Urrego. He killed himself last month after persecution by his Catholic school. "My sexuality is not my sin, it's my own paradise," Urrego wrote on Facebook before he took his life.
| africa |
< Gambia: The National Assembly has passed an anti-gay bill that uses almost identical language as Uganda's overturned Anti-Homosexuality Act.
> South Africa: Mpumalanga makes history with first pride parade.
| Hell in the Hot Zone. "As the Ebola epidemic rages, two questions have emerged: How did the deadly virus escape detection for three months? And why has a massive international effort failed to contain it? Traveling to Meliandou, a remote Guinean village and the likely home of Patient Zero, Jeffrey E. Stern tracks the virus’s path—and the psychological contagion that is still feeding the worst Ebola outbreak in history."
> Book review: Male Sex Work And Society, Victor Minichiello and John Scott. "A compelling new book... that examines the practice of sex work by men from both a modern day and a historical perspective."
> Broadway star Cheyenne Jackson has married his boyfriend Jason Landau.
< Theatre review: Briefs – The Second Coming. "A sickeningly delicious, beautifully executed feast for the senses."
> Theatre review: West End Bares 2014 – Nude Dunnit? "This show opens at boiling point and just gets hotter and hotter as the night progresses. There is plenty of flesh, if that’s what you’ve come for, but there’s also plenty of talent and this is what sets it apart from any other strip show you’ll see on any other stage in any other town."
> Cinema review: Ballet Boys. "The cinematography takes on a Nordic noir feel, the dancers dimly lit amongst twinkling Norwegian cityscapes... Above all though, this is a documentary about boyhood friendship and becoming a man – themes that are utterly relatable beyond the boundaries of ballet." (So So Gay) "A refreshing insight into ballet from a male perspective for a change, and even as lightweight as director Kenneth Elvebakk has made this profile, it is still difficult not to be charmed by these three young men and want them all to succeed and be happy too." (TheGayUK) "Even if there's nothing particularly new about this film, the upfront Scandinavian approach sets it apart, as does the lively, often very silly camaraderie between these three teens." (ContactMusic)
< Cinema review: Pride. "A great story you probably haven’t heard before, one that deserves to be heard loud and clear." (So So Gay) "A hark-back to classic 90s films such as Full Monty and Billy Elliott, but with a much more out and proud attitude, along with a lot more laughter." (Big Gay Picture Show)
> Richard Kiel, the actor best known for his role as Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me, is dead. He was 74.
| Take a first look at Paternity Leave, the forthcoming film starring Eating Out's Chris Salvatore and Charlie David (Dante's Cove); and watch the trailer for Ballet Boys.
| Watch Todrick Hall's latest parody, Cell Black Django; the trailer for Red Band Society, a new series starring Wilson Cruz and Dave Annable (Brothers & Sisters); David demonstrates his talents for his fellow celebrity housemates; and a 1977 clip of Joan Rivers and Robin Williams, who recently passed away within a month of each other.
< The booty-eating renaissance. "Long considered a taboo in heterosexual circles anilingus has been a steady topic of conversation over the past few months. Trend pieces have been written in New York, GQ, and Cosmopolitan. Chris Brown Instragram'd (then promptly deleted) a picture of himself licking a model's ass with the caption 'Eat da booty! #idgt [I don't get tired] lol.'"
> Talking to "escort, powerbottom, bon vivant, and social media maven" Eli Lewis.
< Hotrod's adventures in Montreal. "So apparently losing your glasses in the club and not being able to see shit constitutes being "too drunk" which results in getting thrown out of the club, dragged to the middle of the street by security, handed over to cops, handcuffed and thrown in a police car to be let out 2 blocks after. Of course this isn't over... And we're starting with that cow of a woman you call security."
> Oh dear God. More pictures of Diego Lauzen and newcomer Flex on the set of TimTales in Barcelona...
> Oscar Pistorius: Reeva Steenkamp was a victim of South Africa’s macho culture. The "trial put a spotlight on the pervasive male violence that has survived apartheid, with women all too often the collateral damage."
| And finally, has Andrew stumbled into porn? Davey Wavey enlists porn star Topher DiMaggio to talk about the Homo Code; Rogue "Marbie" Scott opens up about depression; and Walter on why gay African Americans aren't supporting Michael Sam.
"I would also like to take this opportunity to squash the persistent rumours about mysterious 'disappearances' and emphasize that rural and urban areas are now enjoying a life of harmony and peace. I'm sure you're glad to hear this. And I'm happy you're glad."