ODE TO LATA

Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla, Author . Really Great Books $22.95 (28p) ISBN 978-1-893329-13-3

Los Angeles, "the natural and human disaster capital of the world," is the setting for Dhalla's debut, an occasionally witty but somewhat stale portrayal of a young banker's fruitless search for love and happiness in the gay ghetto of West Hollywood. Life for Ali, an ethnic East Indian from Kenya, consists of office work by day and vigorous cruising of local hot spots by night. He also spends time nourishing an unhealthy obsession over Richard, his deceptive ex-lover, and avoiding his overbearing mother's telephone calls. But lately, even the dark corners of bars and the ripe, seedy sex clubs fail to bring Ali the pleasure they once did. Beset by feelings of self-loathing, he thinks back on his anxious childhood in Kenya, his sexual relationship with his best schoolmate, Amin, and lush afternoons watching Hindi cinema featuring chanteuse Lata Mangeshka (of the book's title). A sudden visit from his "dramatic Indian mother" results in an emotional standoff pitting proper Kenyan ways against his homosexual lifestyle. When Ali's close friend Salman makes a "life-altering decision" to leave the gay sex scene and abandon their shared circle of friends, Ali considers making the same choice—then falls for a brutally honest street hustler. Fond of the ill-tempered, jaded dialogue that makes a lot of campy gay fiction such a devilish indulgence, Dhalla piles it on thick here. While the genre has seen better efforts, this author gets kudos for creating Ali, a chatty, outrageously embittered protagonist. The references to ancient Kenyan mosque culture are enlightening (the language glossary in back is interesting in its own right) and several auxiliary characters stand out, but none of these extras liberate the book from its hackneyed premise. 6-city author tour. (Feb. 28)

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
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