Reviewed by Brian Watson
Let me begin by saying that the challenge for me in writing this review will be to avoid hyperbole. To say that I loved Neema Avashia’s Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place (West Virginia University Press 2022) feels like an understatement. I felt at home, accepted and understood in this writing. And, better still, it was beautiful writing. Writing that moved from emotion to emotion with an elegant grace.
I know what you’re thinking. Avashia and me? We’re both queer. We signed the secret pact to exalt our rainbow-dwelling siblings no matter what, right? Except that no pact really exists, and I am of a generation of gay men that felt no compunction whatsoever in their casual, harmful misogynies, biases, and racism—no fats, no femmes, no Asians. Breaking with gay to embrace queer in 2016 helped to the illuminate my former coevals in the alt-right light, though, and I’m much happier reading a Neema Avashia than a (insert self-loathing homosexual —Milo? Roy Cohn? Log Cabin Republicans? Is that you?) here.
Another Appalachia is an embrace of a book. It’s a long, pleasant chat on a porch swing. It’s territory that leads you to tears even as you smile at life’s absurdities—yes, coconuts sink in rivers, but they float on ocean water. It’s an exploration of how to be family in the way that people need you to be. Queer people are familiar with the concept of chosen families, what writer Armistead Maupin termed logical families, as opposed to biological, but Neema reminds us of another function of such chosen families: to at least start to fill in the gaps created by an immigrant otherness.
Another Appalachia is a soulful glance into hiraeth, the Welsh notion of nostalgia that reminds me of similar feelings in Japanese: 懐かしさ (natsukashisa), a longing for a past that is triggered by sensory clues in our present, and 物の哀れ (mono no aware), an understanding of the transience of experiences and things. There is a unique hue of joy within hiraeth, within the sorrow of lost times, within the friendships and memories ended, and Avashia deftly paints with both the darker colors of loss and the lightness of delight within her words.
Her collection of essays reminds me, admittedly in different ways, of my innate foreignness. She reconnects me with my closets and my fears, my need for community. It’s a journey of found love and discovered acceptance, both internal and ex-. And what’s this? There are recipes, too!
Yes, Avashia and I live different lives, but her essays remind me of one of the greatest challenges we face within these fractured times: the need for empathy and openness. Of the need to provide space without running away.
Yes, Avashia and I live different lives, but it sounds like we would have been good friends had our childhoods somehow magically overlapped, bending time and space. She was clearly further along, however, in her sense of justice: I listened to the same song and thought, in the words of any typical six-year-old, “What kind of capitalist, sexist, shadist nonsense is this?”
Yes, Avashia and I live different lives, but she and her partner Laura have at least this in common with me and my husband, Hiro: an ever-present desire for food and travel adventures. If ever there was bedrock to site a relationship on, this is it.
Yes, Avashia and I live different lives, but we both have relatives that take pride in the fact of our writing without really wanting to know what it is that we write. The same relatives who ask: Shame hasn’t overtaken you?
Another Appalachia is a gift of a memoir. It excels at both of the things that memoir should resound with: expanding your knowledge of another human being and expanding your knowledge of your own humanity. So please, I extol you: Find a copy of Another Appalachia and revel in it. Savor it. Share it.