Thursday, August 25, 2011

Romance, love, honor: The Gay Icon Classics of the World, book review

"Romantics are to gays, what Christians were to Roman's back in the day...something to feed to the lions" – Robert Joseph Greene

The Gay Icon Classics of the World brings to life a collection of stories from many different cultures and showcases the importance of the idea of romance, chivalry, and love between men. Expressing a love that transcends the physical, this collection of fables is determined to prove that gay men yearn to be something more than just lust-filled creatures., With a slight modernizing twist, and a careful selection of old tales, the author, Robert Joseph Greene accomplishes his task of giving a voice to the ancient concept of love and allowing it to speak to the modern gay man. The perfect love is in you, and love can be found in different ways. Robert Greene offers eleven different fables of love between men. Which one are you?

Greene’s choice of stories spans different times and different cultures, showing that love between men has transcended history. Though called by many names, the idea of love… true love, has always been present. In his much acclaimed story, “Bantu’s Song and the Soiled Loin Cloth,” the author recounts a story told to him from a fellow colleague about two African men out-casted for loving one another. Who knew that the song of love whistled between two lovers could be recounted so simply and yet so movingly? It’s impossible to ignore the emotion when Bantu steps forward to endure the pain of punishment that was going to be meted out to his lover in order to protect him from the scorn of the community. Bantu is a man so brave and chivalrous that it leaves the reader yearning for that same undying, romantic love.

On the other hand, in “The Three Wishes,” a story of two Mexican lovers, the idea of duty to family before love and keeping a dying woman’s promise transcends the physical sense of love. Spiritual love for one another is knowing that one’s soul mate will find his way back. Two men from different backgrounds are joined together when Santiago helps out an older woman, and is told that God has come to grant him a wish; but in order for the wish to be granted he must share it. In a world filled with imagery and culture, Greene brings to life a tale of two men destined to be with one another… in due time.

Sometimes love alone isn’t enough to quench the desire we seek most; to find a mate that understands who we are as a man, a person, and a lover. In Greene’s story, “The Journey and the Jewels,” the main character, Prince Asfar, discovers that seeking someone like him isn’t the solution to his desire. Two princes, both born of wealth and opportunity, both with the same desire for love, but very different in character, teach us, as well as the young prince, that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Sometimes prices must be paid and lessons learned in order to find that true love might be right in front of you.

Greene brings to light that even as classic as these tales are, the underlying note of fear for loving another man was present throughout time just as it is today. The need and search to love openly is in every story, and in every story love comes at the end of a struggle with oneself, religion, or community in a whimsical allusion that everything will be alright if one gives into love, and nothing else matters. Today, with the continued fight for gay rights and same-sex marriage, it turns out these tales are not far from the truth. These are stories of men fearing the ridicule of society for feeling how they feel for another man all the while trying to negotiate their own feelings and identity and discovering what is right for themselves.

The Gay Icon Classics of the World is a journey through a world not known to most gay men yet still remarkably relatable; a world filled with romance, chivalry, and lessons. As children we grow up reading tales, fables that show us how we should behave, what we should be, and what is right and wrong in society. It is a model for life, but who’s life? Robert Greene’s, The Gay Icon Classics of the World picks up where other fables have left off and allows a place for gay men to reorganize and reconstruct the notion of love. It is a telling of love stories that allows us to believe that love conquers all… even between two men.

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