How To Be Whole?

Reviewed by Tina Northrup

Acclaimed multi-media artist Vivek Shraya produced a self-published edition of God Loves Hair in 2010; four years later, a new edition was published by Arsenal Pulp Press. Its relatively short life has already seen it adopted by a host of Canadian college and university courses exploring masculinity, gender, sexuality, and literature for children and young adults, and, as Shraya’s website notes, the Lambda-nominated book has also garnered recognition by a New York City program aiming to provide LGBTQ materials to libraries and classrooms.

With captivating illustrations by Juliana Neufield and twenty-one impeccably-crafted stories by Shraya, God Loves Hair conveys a myriad of ways in which gender and sexual identities are read, misread, discovered, and claimed. Shraya has a gift for creating textured and multivalent representations of childhood and adolescent attempts to come to terms with expectations and norms in society at large. For the book’s young narrator, who struggles to understand the labels “boy,” “girl,” “pervert,” “sissy,” “Gaylord,” and “fag,” self-recognition finally comes when,

At a street-side vendor’s stall in India, as I am flipping through the stack of familiar pictures of

Hindu gods, I freeze at an image I have never seen. It is of a deity composed of Lord Shiva’s

left side and his female consort Parvati’s right side. Ardhanaraeeshwara.

As Shraya writes: “All the lines that divide what men and women should be and should do begin to blur in the light of this explicit fusion of two gods and two sexes.” This fusion is taken up again in Shraya’s Lambda-nominated novel She of the Mountains, in

which the multi-aspect identities of Parvati, Shiva, and their son Ganesha appear as divine counterparts to the novel’s human protagonists. Accompanied by riveting illustrations—by Raymond Biesinger—Shraya’s succinct, poignant prose begins with a modern creation story:

In the beginning, there is no he. There is no she.


Two cells make up one cell. This is the mathematics behind creation. One plus one makes one.

Life begets life. We are the period to a sentence, the effect to a cause, always belonging to

someone. We are never our own.


This is why we are so lonely.

Readers may recall Aristophanes’ tale, in Plato’s Symposium, of the round-bodied humans who are cut in half by the gods. Shraya’s opening lines reflect and refract in multifaceted ways throughout the pages that follow. Whereas cellular division contributes, seemingly paradoxically, to the creation of an individual being, later divisions imposed by society—such as those that distinguish women from men, and gay men from straight men—diminish the narrator’s ability to feel whole. Queer identification is, in this sense, a homecoming. So is love.

God Loves Hair and She of the Mountains are books to be grateful for. Let’s pray that Shraya continues to make more.

This review “How To Be Whole?” originally appeared in Queer Frontiers. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 224 (Spring 2015): 143-44.

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