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Bitter Eden

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  230 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
This frank and beautifully written novel draws heavily on the author's World War II experiences as a captive in North Africa and a prisoner of war in Italy and Germany. Three men who see themselves as "straight" must negotiate the emotions that are brought to the surface by the physical closeness of survival in the male-only camps. The complex rituals of camp life and the ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published February 25th 2014 by Picador (first published 2002)
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Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sudafrica
Non conoscevo il libro e neppure lo scrittore, mai sentiti neppure nominare: poi su aNobii mi sono imbattuto nel bel commento di un amico che ha la vista acuta e ho avuto voglia di leggerlo: ho fatto bene, è un gran bel libro.

Tatamkhulu Afrika ha uno splendido nome, un nome forte, potente, che ha spessore, peso e corpo.
Come la sua scrittura, che forse perché abituata alla poesia, non perde tempo, scava, s’immerge, va all’osso, e al sangue (quanto sangue può contenere un corpo schel
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gay, netgalley
With apologies to Mr. Afrika, since this is an autobiographical novel, I have to say I found the characters in this book utterly unsympathetic. Considering the time period, homophobia is to be expected, but the sheer amount of gay panic and denial is exhausting.
Apr 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is such a strange hidden gem. Let's start with the author's life story. His Egyptian parents moved to South Africa and died in a flu epidemic when he was very young. He was then raised by a white family who told him nothing about his origins, and called him John. At 17 he wrote his first novel, which was published in the UK, but almost all the copies of the book were destroyed in the bombings of WW2. Meanwhile, he volunteered, fought in North Africa, and spent three years in POW camps ...more
Jun 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Debated between a 4 and 5 star rating - eventually upped it to the higher one, since there is really NOTHING else quite like this novel. The author's own fascinating backstory, and the fact this autobiographical work detailing Afrika's harrowing years as a POW in both Italy and Germany during WW2 was published right before his passing, also influenced my rating. My quibbles had to do with the poetical language, which sometimes slowed this down to a very slow slog, and often I would have to re-re ...more
Oh man, the internalized homophobia. It reached a point when it became only academically good to read about: like, oh, yes, this is how it works, how it manifests, yes indeed, but do we need an entire book about it?

I guess we do, because there is more to Bitter Eden than Tom the narrator's long, slow, torturous okay-ing with himself. The characters are well-drawn, and Afrika's writing is subtle enough that you can just about make out who they actually are through Tom's biased lens. And that incl
Jul 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Some time in my mid-twenties I realized that I had been holding two completely separate ideas of self in my mind, somehow believing both and neither. So I have come to love stories that explore those separations where we hide parts of ourselves from ourselves. This book told one of those stories masterfully.

The first thirty pages were hard for me to concentrate on, and then I was suddenly wrapped up in the book, shocked at having to reenter the modern world when it ended. I especially love the
Feb 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
I received this book through GoodReads. Although the book is an autobiographical work, I found it to be a difficult read. There was no structure to it and it read like a very long meandering poem full of sexual symbolism. I appreciate the experiences that the charcters survived and was disgusted by the treatment of the mentally ill prisoners, but I really could not relate to the characters, Afrika kept his cards close and I never really got a sense of who he really was.
A love story, a life stor
May 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wtf-sad, war
This is the second book I've read recently that has to do with soldiers who happen to fall in love with each other, so I will probably mention Days Without End a few times. Forgive me!

First, Afrika's writing is beautiful, complex and in both meaning and syntax, and often a bit difficult to parse. He's fond of the very long, often very introspective, sentence:

Emotion never fails to seize me then, shake me like a puppy a ball or doll, and I try to tell myself that it is anger that I feel, though I
Oct 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I unhesitatingly filch (quote) the synopsis provided by reviewer Benjamin on, since he has done a very good job at summarising the story:

QUOTE Young South African soldier Tom Smith (Thomas Aloysius Smythe) is a prisoner of war initially taken by the Italians. At his capture a fellow prisoner, the rather prissy Douglas, latches on to him and takes an almost motherly interest in him. But later when a new prisoner, Danny, takes an interest in Tom, conflicts of loyalty arise. But that is
Gail Cooke
Mar 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Raw, powerful, tender, honest Bitter Eden is not an easy book to read due to the suffering men endure in prisoner of war camps. Yet at times it is heroic when we see the best in humankind as these imprisoned men seek to comfort their fellows amidst illness, hunger, deprivation and violence. Afrika does not spare his readers in this autobiographical novel of life in a World War II POW camp. His descriptions are graphic, often painfully so, which in part accounts for the book's strength and the in ...more
Dimity Monroe
Dec 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
Why are the well-written gay books with superior prose always so, damn, sad.
This is the story of relationships between men who were prisoner's of war during World War II. It has a masculine tone, a heartbreaking ending and a very intense last page. I read this in one day while sick with the flu and then cried myself to sleep.
A profound book and probably a hard one to write, as it was based on the actual experiences of it's author, Tatamkhulu Afrika.
Cristal Hougham
Jan 14, 2014 rated it did not like it
I won this book in a "first-reads" giveaway.

I was not able to finish reading this book. I made it to page 76. It had really good potential. I was intrigued by the subject matter and I think that if the right person reads it that it would be a great book. It just wasn't for me. First off, I hated that there was no chapters whatsoever in the book. It just kept going and going and going. There were some beautifully written passages in the book but the bad outweighed the positive for me.
May 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
4.5 rounded up to 5. Writing style was irritating at first but then I came to appreciate it. Touching story.
Sep 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Bitter is a semi-autobiographical novel based on the experiences of the author, Tatamkhulu Afrika. The story follows 'Tom Smith', a military man who has been taken as a prisoner of war by the Italians.

I personally found Afrika's style of writing frustrating to read. Utilising thirty word sentences, lots of commas and complex analogies, I found myself having to reread sections. The symbolism relied heavily on sex and bodily functions. The writer compares a lot of things to whores and talks on en
Vitani Days
Sep 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbtq, guerra
Romanzo di grande spessore (brava Playground per averlo portato in Italia) che si ispira all'esperienza dell'autore nei campi di prigionia e che è il racconto dei legami che si instaurano fra i soldati costretti a vivere in quel duro microcosmo di privazioni che è l'interno del recinto di filo spinato. Legami che, nel caso dei due protagonisti, non presuppongono rapporti "fisici" nel senso stretto del termine, ma un legame squisitamente psichico di dipendenza, di cura l'uno dell'altro, di posses ...more
Jun 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: war, fiction
Rating for this book is a 3.5

This book was nice but it was a lot like reading a college text, it's great and all but sometimes I would have to go back and re-read what was just said to make sense of what was going on. Sometimes something had happened and it wasn't entirely clear that something had happened beforehand to indicate what lead up to it, I'm probably not making much sense but if you read the book you'd probably agree with me.
As for the story itself it was actually touching having to s
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
A white South African is taken prisoner during World War II by the Italians and eventually the Germans. This is his story--a novel based upon the author's personal history--of discovering humanity and love in the midst of a dehumanizing experience. A powerful story beautifully told.
Charlie Smith
Apr 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Visit my blog: HERE WE ARE GOING for the complete review and links, HERE:

Bitter Eden is not an easy book to read. That is, I realize, a difficult start to an essay meant to encourage you to give this book its chance to touch your heart. But, it is my truth, however difficult and not easy that may be, as this novel was the truth of Tatamkhulu Afrika's life.

Now, I had never heard of Tatamkhulu Afrika when this book was brought to my attention; here is his b
Engaging story and one that found hard to put down. It is a story of World War II and the time that the author spent as a prisoner of war and the profound effect this had on his life. It is a story of friendship, love, and despair. A story of longing and what could have been.
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Il Paradiso amaro è un campo di prigionia, prima italiano poi tedesco, della seconda guerra mondiale. Un non-luogo e un non-tempo in cui sboccia l'amore soffocato, confuso, negato, ricercato, di due giovani soldati prigionieri: solo nel buco del mondo Tom e Danny si trovano e, trovandosi, ognuno ritrova se stesso.
Scrittura bellissima, romanzo coinvolgente, emozionante, osa tantissimo: osa scrivere della seconda guerra mondiale, ma in prospettiva diversa, osa scrivere di un amore tra due uomini,
Loree Harrell
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Fearless and very well written. There is nothing I appreciate more from a writer than the telling of the hard truths, excepting telling hard truths beautifully. Afrika does both impeccably and I am larger for the reading.
Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: male-friendship
Young South African soldier Tom Smith (Thomas Aloysius Smythe) is a prisoner of war initially taken by the Italians. At his capture a fellow prisoner, the rather prissy Douglas, latches on to him and takes an almost motherly interest in him. But later when a new prisoner, Danny, takes an interest in Tom, conflicts of loyalty arise. But that is just the first of many conflicts the men will encounter during their imprisonment.

Bitter Eden is a story about the relationships between men who while the
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, sad, and also fascinating, since the story is apparently based on the author's own experiences as a POW in WWII.

SPOILER ALERT: I am now going to discuss the story, so if you don't want to know, read the book instead of this review.

The narrator first allows himself to be taken care of by another man he sees as effeminate, but decent and caring. Then he falls in love with another "straight" guy, who sets out to take him away from the decent-but-effeminate guy, and succeeds. The effemi
Feb 04, 2015 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was such a random surprise. I am looking for books for my LGBT literature course for Fall, and this title came across my radar. A character driven historical novel, I was drawn in from the very start. I found myself experiencing harrowing and dangerous situations along with the narrator - the first person narration works really well here. The language is absolutely beautiful and rich - the book is written in an old-world style that is literary and almost musical. The description is viv ...more
TheRLPL Rice Lake Public Library
This book is a novel based on the experience of the author who was taken prisoner in North Africa and interned in Italian, then German POW camps for the remainder of the war. the novel is an unvarnished account of the experience of three prisoners who are thrown together as they move from one camp to another and figure out ways to survive mentally, emotionally, and physically in the all-male environment. It explores the personal alliances that each develops to cope with the threads of hunger, pe ...more
Just finished Bitter Eden and reminding myself this is why I don't finish books - endings like this shake me up raw inside and make me cry. It's not so much the ending itself, more the virtuoso building up and release of tensions, the horrors and surprising respites of peace and beauty, in the camp and between the men.

And the way he writes - very stream of consciousness and often chaotic, but he's got such a way of wringing out old phrases and making them new and fresh again, and describing thin
Jun 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
sono fortunata ad avere amici colti che mi regalano libri come questo: duro e poco sentimentale, pur essendo una storia d'amore (ambientata nei campi di prigionia italiani e tedeschi)ma pieno di umanità. scritto in maniera scarna, racconta l'essenziale: la miseria quotidiana, le umiliazioni, i piccoli trucchi per la sopravvivenza- ma anche la vita, l'amicizia, il vero volto che inevitabilmente esce fuori, qualche sprazzo di libertà assoluta che non sarà più possibile nella vita *normale* e il pa ...more
Read in a day. Probably could have read in a sitting if life hadn't interfered. This story made me nauseous and made me happy and made me hurt all in equal measure. But more than anything, it made me think. I can't seem to get together a "review" as such right now; I can only ask questions, too many to list here. Maybe I need to chew on it some more.

Read it though. If you think that gender, sex, identity, and the countless meanings of the word "love" are the least bit interesting you should rea
I thought I'd wait a day or two after finishing this book to rate it; hoping I might get some new insight into what I'd read. The character's ability to adapt and survive the most horrific prisoner of war camp life shows the humanity of the men. But somewhere in the way the story was told, the style of writing, the lack of chapters, the somewhat stilted way of writing; all took away from my enjoyment of the book.
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Help finding his other book, Mr. Chameleon 1 2 Jun 18, 2014 11:57AM  
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Tatamkhulu Afrika was born Mohamed Fu'ad Nasif in Egypt to an Egyptian father and a Turkish mother, and came to South Africa as a very young child. Both his parents died of flu, and he was fostered by family friends under the name John Charlton.

He fought in World War II in the North African Campaign and was captured at Tobruk, his experiences as a prisoner of war featuring prominently in his writi
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“Love is an emotion too often threatened by ennui to attain to the grand passion for which I have long since ceased to hope.” 2 likes
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