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The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


It’s always a good sign when a book looks as stunning as The Black Flamingo does. This is a treat of design, all the way from that luscious front cover full of colour and style and power through to the pages themselves which play around with ink, typography and illustration. This is a book that sings with time and effort and care, and all of that is before you’ve even got to the first page. Like I said, always a good sign and Anishka Khullar (the illustrator) needs recognising for their vital, wonderful work here. It’s beautiful stuff.

And all of that care and craft pays off because The Black Flamingo is excellent. It’s a wild, rich verse novel that details the birth of The Black Flamingo, Micheal’s drag persona. The Black Flamingo is powerful, bold, and brave – and full of all of the stories and experiences that Micheal’s had to get to that point. Atta’s writing is sensitive, subtle and fearless; a fine balancing act that manages to craft something utterly beautiful in the process. Micheal’s part Greek-Cypriot, part Jamaican. He’s a thousand different things to a thousand different people. He’s viewed through the filter of his gender, his racial identity, his sexuality, his hair, his choices, the colour of his skin and so very rarely understood for who he is. But this is a book about seizing that moment of being who you are and owning it. Fearlessly, unapologetically, remarkably.

One of the rather beautiful moments in this comes when The Black Flamingo, in her act, recognises those who have paved the way for her. She pays tribute to a whole world of writers, performers, and personalities who have explored blackness, queerness and otherness. And in doing so, in placing that so very carefully within the climactic moment of this story, the reader is told that they are not alone. You are part of a continuum of voices, of people being who. they. are. Such an important thing, so excellently done and oh so beautifully handled.

I had such a lot of time for Atta’s work here. You can really feel Micheal start to find himself as the book develops; lines become firmer, words become steadier, and the absolute heart that beats in every inch of this becomes more and more wonderful. It’s difficult to define what empowering literature is and sometimes I think we throw the word out in the hope that it will stick because we don’t know quite else to do with it. But I think this is empowering stuff because every inch of it is full of heart and power and joy. Atta has this great gift of making Micheal both wise and naive, old and young, brave and terrified.

It’s all there and you feel every inch of it. There’s not an inch of this book that you don’t feel.



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