Antiman: A Hybrid Memoir
Winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, Rajiv Mohabir's Antiman is an impassioned, genre-blending memoir that navigates the fraught constellations of race, sexuality, and cultural heritage that have shaped his experiences as an Indo-Guyanese queer poet and immigrant to the United States.
Growing up a Guyanese Indian immigrant in Central Florida, Rajiv Mohabir is fascinated by his family's stifled Hindu history and the legacy of his ancestors, who were indentured laborers on British sugarcane plantations. In Toronto he sits at the feet of Aji, his unlettered grandmother, listening to her stories and songs in her Caribbean Bhojpuri. By now Aji's eleven children have immigrated to North America and busied themselves with ascension, Christianity, and the erasure of their heritage and Caribbean accents. But Rajiv wants to know more: where did he come from, and why does he feel so out of place?
Embarking on a journey of discovery, he lives for a year in Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges, perfecting his Hindi and Bhojpuri and tracing the lineage of his Aji's music. Returning to Florida, the cognitive dissonance of confederate flags, Islamophobia, and his father's disapproval sends him to New York, where finds community among like-minded brown activists, work as an ESL teacher, and intoxication in the queer nightlife scene. But even in the South Asian paradise of Jackson Heights, Rajiv feels like an outsider: "Coolie" rather than Desi. And then the final hammer of estrangement falls when his cousin outs him as an "antiman"--a Caribbean slur for men who love men--and his father and aunts disown him.
But Rajiv has learned resilience. Emerging from the chrysalis of his ancestral poetics into a new life, he embraces his identity as a poet and reclaims his status as an antiman--forging a new way of being entirely his own. Rapturous, inventive, and devastating in its critique of our own failures of inclusion, Antiman is a hybrid memoir that helps us see ourselves and relationships anew, and announces an exciting new talent in Rajiv Mohabir.
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About the Author
Rajiv Mohabir is the author of Cutlish (Four Way Books 2021), The Cowherd's Son (2017, winner of the 2015 Kundiman Prize) and The Taxidermist's Cut (2016, winner of the Four Way Books Intro to Poetry Prize and finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry in 2017), and translator of I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara (1916) (2019), which received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant Award and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. His essays can be found in places like Asian American Writers Workshop's The Margins, Bamboo Ridge Journal, Moko Magazine, Cherry Tree, Kweli, and others, and he has a "Notable Essay" in Best American Essays 2018. Currently he is an Assistant Professor of poetry in the MFA program at Emerson College. His debut memoir, Antiman, won the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
"Interwoven with Bhojpuri and Creole renderings of Aji's songs and stories as well as Mohabir's own interesting poetry, this distinctive memoir explores the complex, at times heartbreaking, intersection of identities and the tumultuous process of becoming an artist. A shattering and heartfelt journey from heartache and hesitancy to confidence, self-acceptance, and joy."
"It's striking in its play with genre, and vivid in its imagery and metaphor.... The memoir is an unusual, lyric glimpse into Mohabir's perspective, as well as a window onto a world that is severely underrepresented in English letters.... Mohabir takes a personal, confessional approach, fusing poetry and fragmented memoir together to tell the story of a sexual and political coming of age."
--Anita Felicelli, Electric Literature
"All of Mohabir's virtuosities are on display in Antiman. The criss-crossing between languages and narrative structures, the blurring of linguistic and national lines, as well as the pathos Mohabir builds for one particular life raised in suburban Florida. What makes Antiman more than required reading for our time and age is not merely how many boundaries are intersected in Mohabir's memoir. It is his conviction to innovate in style and structure... [and] his desire to give voice to a diverse microcosm--the Indo-Guyanese community of the United States--addressing erasures on the international stage."--Kiran Bhat, Moko Magazine
"Mohabir uses this juncture to investigate multiplicity and fusion, showing how both he and other family members demonstrate resilience through adaptation and integration, even when their respective strategies for survival put them at odds.... A nuanced account that's sensitively told, the memoir Antiman uses duality on multiple levels to shape its central questions and shift the ways that a story about Indian immigrant identity, history, and legacy is heard and understood."
--Letitia Montgomery-Rogers, Foreword Reviews, Starred Review
"With a poet's rhythms and thrilling attunement to how to bend and play with language, Mohabir tells a rich and layered story of sexuality, family, culture, and what it is to come into your own."
--Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe
"Mohabir's act of translating his Aji's songs, their English versions rooted right next to their purest form, is a way of ensuring that his identity remains whole, not broken--an amalgamation of his ancestors' many truths."
--Jeevika Verma, NPR
"The memoir refuses genre. Instead, it invents its own radical, striking, fragmented form, which reflects Mohabir's efforts to mend himself.... His stunning original poetry flies abreast of translated Bhojpuri songs. Anti-colonial polemic enlivens prose about his quest for a place his fluid self might move within rigid lines of identity.
"Antiman makes its own way in American letters. Transfused with what Mohabir calls in his Author's Note, 'the queerest magic' of his Aji's songs, it's an incomparable, hybrid account of self and family that defies expectations. Singular, fierce: That's the gorgeous sound of a bird taking flight."
--Anita Felicelli, The Washington Post
"In his gorgeous and experimental memoir, Antiman, Indo-Caribbean poet Rajiv Mohabir... delves into his family's history and its tangle of stigmas to locate a powerful literary heritage and the origins of his own artistic life.... Interspersing experiments in multilingual poetry among sections of conventional memoir, Antiman serves as both a touching account of the author's life and a bold statement of his poetics."
--Theo Henderson, Shelf Awareness, Starred Review
"Uncovering hidden histories and languages buried in the rubble of colonialism is just one of the many wonders of Antiman... which, like its author, is a beautifully hybrid creation that defies convention and categorization.... Like the best memoirs, Mohabir's tells us as much about ourselves as it does about him, inviting us to turn the mirror inward and find resonances of our own lives with his.... Working in concert with its narrative, the construction of the book itself is a joy--an interweaving of languages, forms, and myths."
--Shankar Narayan, Raven Chronicles Press