Review: Eric Page
Proud Pink Sky breaks down the binary between utopia and dystopia – presenting a vision of the world’s first gay state. A glittering metropolis of 24 million people, this MegaCity of Berlin is a bustling world of Pride parades, polyamorous trysts, with an official gay language, Polari. Its distant radio broadcasts are a lifeline for teenagers William and Gareth, but is there a place for them in the deeply divided city? Meanwhile, young mother Cissie loves Berlin’s towering high rises and chaotic multiculturalism, yet she’s never left her heterosexual district – not until she discovers a walled-off slum of perpetual twilight, home to the city’s forbidden trans residents.
Challenging assumptions of sex and gender, Proud Pink Sky questions how much we must sacrifice to find identity and community.
The story follows the journey to Berlin of these two couples, one hetro one gay/queer and their various reasons for making the move, through choice, or urgent necessity. We don’t learn too much about the contemporary history/political situations of their world, although we spend some time in a deeply puritanical England and the gay enclave of Brighton – politically affiliated to and sheltered by the power of the Republic of Berlin. As the story progresses, it backfills important events and dates to give a more rounded idea of the context of the Republic of Berlin, it’s believable and captures the idea that history is a flow, and will find a way to produce the same effects no matter the course it follows.
We learn about day to day living in the Republic from the experiences of the main two protagonists, and their partners, friends and acquaintances. Through chance meetings a close net of relationships develop based on usual human needs; friendship, company, finding a family and a safe place, along with the need for adventure! As the characters settle into their new home, this apparently glittering queer paradise – we quickly learn – is not quite as perfect as it seems, although it’s viewed (and promoted) as a haven for LGBTQ+ people across the world.
“It asks us what it is to be a real ally, it asks us to look beyond our comfortable privilege…”
By using both a young male gay couple and a heterosexual family the author allows us to understand the experience of a wide range of different identities as both couples learn more about the real diversity and vibrant complexity of the world they are living in. As they explore, literally and emotionally the spaces they now inhabit, being exposed to new ideas, and ways of being they begin to understand the truth of their own lives and how that will affect them living in the gay republic.
The political settlement of the Republic is unanimously gay and lesbian, not LGBTQ. Gender diversity is considered a threat to the integrity of the Republic, with trans and binary people driven to live in a permanently overshadowed walled ghetto, bisexuality is barley tolerated and trans and heterophobia opening practiced. There’s an ugliness under the buff exfoliated skin of the glittering towers of this Rainbow Metropolis.
Barrett’s prose is engaging, and they fold a good action based narrative thumping in and around the personal relationships of these people. The move to the huge megalopolis changes who they are, what they are and the way they relate to each other. We see how the political unrest, the prejudice and privilege of the ruling lesbian and gay classes plays out on the trans, hetero, and gender queer minorities who work the bars, construction and menial jobs that keep the city running.
There’s some funny set scenes woven in which made me smile, the geography of the city a camp nod to current LGBTQ+ tribal designations, the idea of a noble ( but not perfect) Gay Republic is glorious and Barrett sets this up well, giving heroic history to the development of this megacity space. The exploration and horrible denouement of the book, but not of the Republic, gives us both insight into the ways that fear and radicalization eats away at good people, and also offers hope in the transformation of ignorance into understanding.
This sub plot also ramps up the narrative tension, in a harsh staccato way. Without too many spoilers, our main protagonists undergo an emotional transformation allowing them to reach the beginning of authentic living. Barrett offers us no happy endings, but there is a resolve; untidy, uncomfortable, and ugly in parts, it is also intensely human in its choices. The book brings this point back to the centre of the narrative time and time again and echoes and explores our own worlds contemporary problems with extending real inclusion to our gender diverse communities in an equitable and fair way.
“Proud Pink Sky reminds us that hope will never be silent.”
Proud Pink Sky is an entertaining and engaging queer alt’ history novel based in a believable futuristic gay and lesbian republic; a glittery brave new world; a MegacitySlay suggestive of a queer cross between Blade Runner and Logans Run; a fabulous multi-layered, dense city of the future run by a conservative, binary power structure, oozing privilege, fighting change. Its own traumatic early history, playing out again in the trauma visited on ‘others’. The established ruling elite is brittle with vested interest and pumps out populist propaganda to keep its population angry, and focused on the sedition of a marginalised minority, teetering on Orwellian tyranny to keep the status quo. Now what does that remind me of?
Barrett’s deeply human story of lives, loves, tragedy and hope touches us all in its universality, but it is a clarion call for unconditional acceptable and a warning against how thin a gruel tolerance is for nourishing people with no rights. It asks us what it is to be a real ally, it asks us to look beyond our comfortable privilege, it urges us to hold out our hands to our LGBTQ+ siblings and feel the commonality, and fight for equality for all. Proud Pink Sky reminds us that hope will never be silent.
Polari is one of the official languages of this gloriously imagined Berlin, and one of the curious aspects of the book is, as the story develops, the characters learn and use more and more Polari in their everyday speech, allowing the reader to absorb and learn this historical queer lingo alongside. The book left me with a pretty good understanding of Polari which was an unexpected treat and has a comprehensive appendix of this historical LGBTQ+ lingo at the end. Bona!
Out now, paperback. For more info or to order the book see the publisher’s website here:
You can also hear the author talk about his new novel at this event at University of Brighton Wednesday 26 from 3-5pm. This event is free but registration is via this link
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