Book Review: Love Cake by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Sally Greider

Sophomore, English and Public Relations major

Recently, I reviewed Big Bang Press’ new book, A Hero at the End of the World. It was exciting to review a Young Adult literature book that was newly published from such an innovative press. Many college readers have never been introduced to different, more obscure genres of books and press before, but reading new types of books can be incredibly rewarding. Expand your reading lists! To quote the words of the mystical Professor Trelawney, “Broaden your minds!”

In the spirit of continuing to introduce books and literary material that might be considered unusual or slightly foreign to the college audience, my next book review concerns the devastatingly raw and politically unapologetic work of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, a queer woman of color and a Sri Lankan writer, performer and teacher. I recently read her 2011 collection of poetry, titled Love Cake. I was blown away by the lyrical imagery and the immediate and intimate message bursting from the pages.

To give some background on the talented writer, Samarasinha teaches at UC Berkeley’s June Jordan’s Poetry for the People and her performance show, Grown Woman Show, tours throughout America and Canada. She is the author of another collection of essays and poems, Consenual Genocide, and her writing has featured in many feminist and queer theory anthologies. Samarasinha has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and in 2010 was named one of the Feminist Press’ 40 Feminists under 40 Shaping the Future.

It is strange to give such a textbook, cut and dry depiction of Samarasinha’s accomplishments in this article, when after reading Love Cake I feel as though I have been treated to a glimpse into her innermost thoughts, beliefs, and struggles. Love Cake is a small collection of poems, only 97 pages long, but it packs a punch of flavor to its’ meticulously crafted recipe; the issues addressed in Samarasinha’s poetry seamlessly weave together into the experience of a woman, as well as the experience of a culture.

Love Cake documents Islamophobia, the Sri Lankan civil war and a family’s intimate history of violence, while simultaneously blending this sadness smoothly into a commentary on the queer people of color community, as well as the complicated joy of recovery of bodily identity and sexuality after abuse. Anger figures heavily in Samarasinha’s poetry. Trials of violence, colonialism and discrimination are wrecked upon Samarasinha’s cultural and personal history, but the words she writes both bear witness to and fight back against these trials. This is shown most notably in poems such as “In Transit” and “Sweetest Thing/Teierra Sgrada.”

However, despite the justified and virulent anger, in Samarasinha’s poems there is also a heady sense of persistence. This will to live is so dogged and tangible that it does more than allow her to simply survive—she thrives. Writhing its way off the paper in slick slant rhymes and bold free verse, Samarasinha’s poetry carries messages of love and self-acceptance, of healing and transformation.

Blunt, honest, and often almost shockingly raw, Samarasinha speaks of unfettered connection and sexual identity in poems such as “Rock” and “Grateful.” Boldly writing about lovers, friendships, and the joys of living life, she is unapologetically true in all things from faults to prayers.

There are gritty reminisces of love and home-making, a nebulous intersection of language and identity, bittersweet moments in the queer people of color community’s shared feelings of pride, protection, and solidarity.

Poetry often can give a reader a more intimate and intense connection to an author than the chapters of a fictional novel. As a way to see and attempt to understand the joys and tragedies of a woman, a queer community, and a culture all healing from struggles I personally will never undergo as a privileged and white woman, I was humbled by reading Love Cake.

There are books of poetry that are reminiscent of Shakespearean drama and there are books of poetry filled with romantic sonnets and there are books of poetry that are quite frankly rather difficult to understand.

In another category are books of poetry like those by Samarasinha: poetry that encompasses a life, a culture, a celebration of survival. Love Cake’s powerful words left me breathless.

I highly recommend Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s collection of poetry, Love Cake, to any book lover searching for something fresh. In the future months of 2015, Samarasinha will soon be releasing a new book, titled Bodymap. Keep an eye out for it on the shelves— I, for one, will definitely be preordering a copy!

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