The same week I learned the devoted publisher has wanted to secure the rights to this somewhat autobiographical queer novel for more than ten years, one of my very favorite writers emailed me praising the book and suggesting it for Thebes: Three soldiers (two British, one South African) are POWs during WWII, first in Italy then in Germany.
Finally out yesterday in the US, Bitter Eden [Kindle] arrives with a starred Kirkus review: "The taboo of homosexuality—the accusations, the denials, the flaunting and acquiescing—is a primary concern of the novel, as gay and straight and all that lies in between struggle in close quarters and constant deprivation... What begins as an unforgettable account of prisoners of war ends as something surprising: a love story." Christos Tsiolkas says, "Bitter Eden is one of those rare books that is both tender and tough, that is a punch to the stomach and a caress to the face. This is an exploration of men in war, and though it rings absolutely true to the experiences of Allied prisoners in the World War II, it also transcends the specific and the historic to be a moving and unsettling chronicle of the ferocious bonds and dangerous conflicts that emerge when any group of men are pushed to extremes. Bitter Eden is earthy and lyrical, caustic and moving. It is a thrilling read."
The author published his first novel at 17 and this, his fourth novel, at 82. Born in 1920 to an Egyptian father and Turkish mother, he was orphaned at two and raised by a Methodist couple who renamed him John Carlton and forgot to mention he wasn't white. He changed his name first to Jouza Joubert, then to Ismail Joubert. He was a POW during WWII and much later served time in the same prison where and while Nelson Mandela was held. Banned for five years and forbidden to write, he used the name Tatamkhulu Afrika under which he won many prizes for his poetry and essays. Two weeks after publishing Bitter Eden he died of injuries from being struck by a car.