My First Novel
Julian is a middle-aged gay poet whose mother, an artist, has just died. While grieving her death, he sorts through his mother’s paintings, revisiting a bittersweet past: his parents’ marriage overshadowed by memories of war, and his own romantic affair with Roman, his lover. Set in post-war communist Poland, Julian’s recollections of his relationship unfold in many ways like the immortal tale of Romeo and Juliet. Just like Shakespeare’s young lovers, the two young men, always meeting in secret, hear the nightingales at night and the larks at dawn. Unlike the storied lovers from high class Verona, however, Julian and Roman’s love unravels in bleak surroundings: a public park, a grim little apartment, and a primeval forest. As Julian journeys through the reality of his youth, he challenges the tyrannical postwar censorship that surrounded and strangled both art and gay relationships. His tale is a testimony to the strength of the human spirit to survive-and even thrive-in an oppressive political regime.
Here’s an excerpt, which is the preface:
Have you ever stood in silence and let the quiet lead you into a story? Haven’t you? Try it. Stand still for a while and just listen. Silence is not nothingness. Silence is the safe haven where feelings and ideas that cannot be spoken are sheltered. Unspoken, they are expressed in paintings, in gestures, in facial expressions. Whether they cannot be uttered because of the oppressive regimes that dare to censor them, or the culture and society that deny their existence, they are still there, waiting for their time to mature, waiting for the time to come to light. And once they do emerge, they are the fabric of the most poignant stories: stories of courage and hope, stories of survival against all odds, stories of confronted taboos, stories of personal growth and a better understanding of the world. One such story, which encompasses all of these themes, unfolds before you, the reader, in the pages that follow. At first, you will hear nothing. And then, slowly, you will hear a pinecone fall from a nearby tree, birds chirping somewhere above your head, brisk footsteps passing by you. Soon after, you hear a door unlock, and rooted to the ground and observing from the distance, you instinctively follow with your eyes the owner of the footsteps as he walks briskly through a doorway. You blink as he turns on the light that you see through the window. Then you are left alone with your story of the man who has just come in he has just closed the door firmly, as if to ensure that he and his story are invisible to you and to the world he has left outside the door.
You stand still for a moment, wishing that the white-washed walls of the house would turn into paper and you could hear every word the man utters. You listen, very intently. But nothing, not a single sigh or sign of life emerges from the house. You weigh the possibilities: what could he be doing now? As he was passing by, you were half staring into space, half looking down at the man s shoes on the leafy sidewalk, so you couldn’t even tell whether he was sad, happy, depressed, thoughtful. You did not even look at his hands to see if he wore a wedding band.
What’s left to do? Again, you balance all the possibilities, outcomes both plausible and outrageous, and rather than keep imagining, you decide to walk a bit closer to the house. It will be dark soon, so you won’t be noticed. Yes, by all means, you have to avoid being noticed, for this would change the story you are trying to witness, not participate in and influence in any way. So you walk slowly, cautiously toward the white house. You direct your steps toward the side not lit by a nearby street lamp. You slowly plunge into the dark green, gray, and purple hues of the evening garden. You can feel high grass stroke your hands. Your dark silhouette moves steadily, rhythmically, as if dancing in the hues, the evening lights. It dances until it falls there was a branch on your improvised stage. You involuntarily scream as you trip and fall deep into the hues that are almost black close to the ground. You disappear from view as the window opens. You hold your breath. You see a shape resembling a face appear in the window. It is too dark for you to make out any features or expressions. From your position on the ground, you can see only the shape of the face moving left and right. You hear a soft mumble, something that sounded like the wind, and the latch of the window being closed. As you lie in silence and darkness, your imagination can now indulge in making up the story of somebody who has just closed the window on a windy evening in the early spring.
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