Neema Avashia, author of Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place, tells the story of what it was like being a child of immigrants living in West Virginia. Another Appalachia is full of stories about triumph, disappointment, and family, and how a place can shape all three of these concepts.
Avashia’s storytelling in this book is concise and clear, and her stories feel familiar if you’ve also grown up in Appalachia or spent any extended period of time in one of its towns. One story that especially resonated with me was the story of a family friend, often considered a grandparent, who, after his wife’s death, became a radicalized right-wing conservative. Avashia talks about how hurtful it was, watching someone who was so dear to her spiral into hate, and how she avoided broaching the topic and instead relied on the sweet memories of the man she once knew.
Avashia is not just Asian American, but queer, and I found the parts of the book that discuss queerness and her relationship with her long-term partner, Laura, to be my favorite sections. The story of how they got together — two teachers who met because they were passionate about helping their students — really struck a chord. Avashia writes of growing up having never met a gay person in her childhood, or at least not one who was out. She talks about playing a childhood game, Smear the Queer, without really knowing what the phrase meant.
When we are introduced to Laura, it also feels like we are introduced to another side of Avashia. In the beginning of the book, we see a woman who is strong-willed and confident, who isn’t afraid to take on a school district that she feels is neglecting students. When Avashia is tasked with introducing Laura to her family, we witness a nervousness and softness not before seen.
Throughout the book, we meet figures from Indian spiritual life and folklore, and parallels are drawn between Avashia’s life and those of these Hindu spiritual figures. These sections of the book can be seen as a way to educate readers who are not acquainted with these stories, but they also add a richness to the prose that gives the parallel stories more depth and texture.
Another Appalachia is a story that will stick with you long after you’ve finished reading.
May #CPBookClub Selection
Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before by Brandon Getz
Brandon Getz is celebrating all things weird. In his short story collection, Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before (Six Gallery Press), the Pittsburgh writer highlights creatures, spirits, ghosts, robots, superheroes, and, according to his website, “the Devil himself.”
Getz says the 12 stories interject “strange and speculative elements into the mundane” in a collection Sam Ligon, author of Among the Dead and Dreaming, calls “a beautiful book of magic and loss.”
Be sure to grab a copy of Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before at #CPBookClub's sponsor, Riverstone Books, at shop.riverstonebookstore.com or in person at 5825 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill and 8850 Covenant Ave., McCandless, and join the conversation during the May Pittsburgh City Paper Book Club.