Antiman: A Hybrid Memoir -

Antiman: A Hybrid Memoir

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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 abandoned 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 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 Aji has taught Rajiv 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.

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.

Praise for Antiman:

Winner of the 2019 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing

Finalist for the 2022 PEN Open Book Award

2022 LAMBDA Literary Awards Finalist - Gay Memoir/Biography

2021 Foreword INDIES Finalist - LGBTQ+ (Adult Nonfiction)

2022 Publishing Triangle Awards Finalist -- Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction

"The stakes of Indo-Guyanese poet Rajiv Mohabir's passionate memoir Antiman are high from the start.... While the memoir richly explores an awakening to anti-colonial politics and a queer coming-of-age, its emotional core is the anguish of repeatedly being made to stand apart.... 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

"Antiman ... moves across countries--India, Guyana, Canada, the U.S.--and genres-- poetry, prose, myth, and family history--to tell the story of his experience growing up across cultures and wanting to learn more about the Hindu history his family, living as Guyanese Indian immigrants in Florida, left behind. He reckons with racism, with homophobia (the title is a Caribbean slur for a man who loves men), and with a pervasive feeling of being an outsider. With tenacity and exuberance, and dancing between a number of languages and dialects, Mohabir comes to claim his own identity, finding firmer footing in the world."

--Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe

"Mohabir carves a vessel to contain his multitudes using the instruments of prose, song, poetry, "In this searing, unflinching investigation of diaspora, heritage, and personal evolution, Rajiv Mohabir has fashioned a blues that blurs the boundaries of genre, a book-song that haunts and resonates. Antiman is a potent, lyrical fusion of harmony, dissonance, and recognizance. Music lives on every page."

--Jabari Asim, author of Yonder and We Can't Breathe

"Mohabir, here, carves a vessel to contain his multitudes using the instruments of prose, song, poetry, and prayer. Authentic and defiant, this memoir responds to erasure with assertion, to derogation with reclamation, and to fragmentation with relation. Fans of Ocean Vuong, Alexander Chee, and Saeed Jones will adore this book!"

--Serena Morales, Books Are Magic (Brooklyn, NY)

"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

"Rajiv Mohabir's Antiman is a powerful portrait of the artist as a young, brown, immigrant, queer man and is my favorite kind of book, prose written by a poet.... This book stops time to celebrate voices worth remembering."

--Grace Talusan, author of The Body Papers

"Antiman won this year's Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.... The book explores his family's legacy of displacement and also his own queerness. It's a mix of prose, poetry, songs, myths, and more. Antiman is as multi-faceted and multi-layered as its author."

--Rebecca Hussey, BookRiot Best Genre-Bending Nonfiction of 2021

"Antiman overflows with languages--English, Bhojpuri, and Creole--and with various forms of storytelling, including prose and poetry, journal entries, 'fauxtales, ' transcriptions of recordings of his grandmother, definitions, and 'misreadings.' This multiplicity of genres enriches the book and allows the reader to experience the various worlds Mohabir inhabits.... Not quite a coming out story, Antiman is an illuminating 'hybrid memoir, ' a record of Mohabir's coming to terms with himself, discovering who he is, and his embrace of multiple communities and cultures."

--Reginald Harris, The Gay and Lesbian Review

"Told in sentences charged with beauty and rage, we get an unapologetic account of a life that thrums in our veins, building to a drumbeat that starts in the Caribbean and explodes into the world."

--Krystal A. Sital, PEN award finalist author of Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad

"Rajiv Mohabir achieves a gorgeous, passionately lyrical 'hybrid' of a memoir-mosaic, sojourning through straightforward narrative, multifold geographies and legacies, and evocative (and provocative) vulnerable reflections, all infused with a deeply yearning poetical heartbeat. Antiman lives, breathes, and dances in unbridled joy."

--Thomas Glave, author of The Torturer's Wife

"In Antiman, Rajiv Mohabir sets forth on a journey with few parallels in the history of immigrant literature. While tracing his ancestors' peripatetic migrations from rural India to Guyana to Canada and the US, Mohabir examines both the bonds and disconnects between his American identity as a gay poet with the expectations and limitations of his diverse cultural inheritance.... More than a memoir, this brave and beautiful book is a tale of the resilience of the human heart, and of multiple family journeys across generations and four continents. With great intelligence and insight, Mohabir tackles questions of caste, ethnicity, and sexuality, spinning tales of tenderness and ignorance, of love and of longing for that mysterious place called home."

--Terry Hong, Héctor Tobar, and Ilan Stavans, from the Prize Judges' Citation

Publisher: Restless Books
Pub date:
368 pages
Format: Paperback