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Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  756 ratings  ·  91 reviews
Lambda Literary Award finalist

In 1996, poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha ran away from America with two backpacks and ended up in Canada, where she discovered queer anarchopunk love and revolution, yet remained haunted by the reasons she left home in the first place. This passionate and riveting memoir is a mixtape of dreams and nightmares, of immigration court lineups
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Paperback, 240 pages
Published November 3rd 2015 by Arsenal Pulp Press (first published October 13th 2015)
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4.22  · 
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 ·  756 ratings  ·  91 reviews


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Danika at The Lesbrary
Mar 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
I feel like I am totally unqualified to talk about this book. It's like someone cracking open her ribcge and showing you what's inside, while fixing you with a glare like vulnerability is the most badass and resilient thing you can do.
CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian
I need some time to process this book. I felt underwhelmed by it for about the first half, then ended up really loving some of the writing in the last half. This may be because the first half is earlier work before Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha honed her craft, but for a while I was disappointed in this memoir, which I was expecting to love because I was blown away by her last poetry collection. Overall I think this memoir just suffers from the unevenness of the quality of writing. I love the styl ...more
Sinclair
Oct 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Raw, gritty, unpolished, and in that there is revealed deep truth. Very readable, I zoomed through it in a day and didn't want to put it down. Reads like a string of short connected stories, some more like poems, some essays. Leah's interesting dive into growing up not knowing her racial identity, and having to discover it in a social context, reminds me a lot of queerness and the construction of those identities too.
Ai Miller
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This books was really incredible--it hurt but there's also so much heart and I literally couldn't put it down. I read it in like two hours in the middle of the night, and couldn't sleep for a little bit afterwards because it had wriggled into my brain and the narration style wouldn't leave me alone. It like. Oozes compassion, which is a bad word to describe it, but that's all that comes to mind. The compassion like seeps out of this book and into your brain and I walked away from it wanting to t ...more
K
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: want-hard-copy
I walked through New York with Leah, I organized, I fell in love, I ran away, I found my way back home.
I held my breath the entire time while reading this, it’s beautiful. Helped me fill the little Zami-sized hole in my heart.
Alenka
May 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer, memoir, poetry
Samarsinha's prose - and poetry - is brilliant and beautiful. She paints gorgeous, vibrant portraits of the places she loves and complicated pictures of the people who caused her pain. There is no one way to live an identity, and Samarsinha communicates that beautifully.
Kimberly
This was a challenging read for me. It was way out of my wheelhouse and not something I’d pick up on my own. It made me uncomfortable. It made me contemplative. It made me aware of another person’s experience and how it shaped her into the person she is today.

For me, this was a Bildungsroman. The narrative didn’t flow sequentially, it meandered back and forth over the years, and set itself primarily in the 1990s. Leah shared her story of the discovery of herself. She talked about growing up as a
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Z
Sep 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
It’s not easy to explain, but this book feels alive. Excellent, poignant, and memorable. Piepzna-Samarasinha beautifully captures the inner and outer environments of life, love, and learning in queer communities of color and the world. Her vivid descriptive style appeals to the senses, making one want to reach for a blanket while reading about a coatless Toronto winter. At other times, you can feel yourself dancing or falling in love. Anyone who has lived through similar experiences during the e ...more
M.
Profoundly affecting. I finished this with hand on heart. A complex, nuanced, and tremendously moving memoir--adopting a nonlinear structure loosely comparable to Lidia Yuknavitch's The Chronology of Water (cited in the Acknowledgments as an influence)--that addresses coming into mixed-race queer crip identity, surviving/confronting childhood abuse and partner abuse, finding and forming community/home/family; while capturing the queer POC scene in Toronto in the mid/late 90s. Vivid writing; an i ...more
Linda
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Leah has given me a new identity to think myself through: survivor. Leah joins June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua for me, for sure, just as she probably would like it. Feels strange to quote/excerpt, feels like the whole book needs to be quoted/excerpted. Awesome descriptions of psych survivor movement in Toronto.

Dope CUNY shoutout- "New York activist culture 1996 was five to ten meetings a week, coffee and a pack of Camels and you don't need any sleep, what's wrong with you? It was
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Yuni Chang
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
i feel invigorated, i feel achy. i survived some things, i shared something beautiful and unhealthy with a femme who made me cry like that, both good and bad. i take joy in my queerness, my sensuality, how attuned i am to pleasure, and i’ve also been afraid of my life, confined to my bed like a stain, looking to cis men for answers. i am both not brave enough and also worthy of forgiving myself for all the ways i’ve been taught to fear being really free, being really in love w the world and all ...more
Dana Neily
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Writing style took a little to get into but once I did I found it was an engaging and important story. Reccomended to anyone wanting to better understand the intersectionality of race, queerness, abuse, and disability.
Laura Engelken
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was ok
You know when a colleague lends you their book to read and you didn’t ask to do so? It then sits on your desk, staring at you - taunting you even - because you can’t in good conscience return it until you’ve read it and it’s getting to the point that you really must return it.

So I finally cracked open this memoir and completed it before the beginning of a new year. I had to struggle through the first couple chapters ins which it felt Piepzna-Samarasinha was trying to lay the shock and strangene
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Karen
Jan 26, 2016 rated it liked it
I felt like this wasn't that well written. A lot of the sentences read like lists, and there were odd gaps in the story. Like, what was her relationship with Rafi like after (view spoiler)? She writes about her second-to-last visit home but not the last, or her decision to stop visiting. It felt inconsistent, like she'd give a lot of detail about a specific incident but spotty information about what followed.
Clementine Morrigan
This is a beautiful and important book. The rich descriptions of Toronto are a bonus.
Anna
Nov 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
So good that after I finished it, I immediately read it again.
Keira Edwards-Huolohan
This book was like a friend for a bit there, in that I understood and related to bits of it (e.g. pain, poverty, persisting). Some of it is outside my realm of experience so I am happy to have learned about it (e.g. not being sure where you fit in culturally). It was a sharing of things that takes a lot of courage (at least, I think it does) and I appreciate it.

CWs (that I can remember, it's a pretty heavy, realistic, book): childhood sexual abuse, spousal abuse, restricted eating
Bridget
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
10 stars if I could...

Incredibly powerful. The pace of it pulls you in and spins you until you're breathless. I am so thankful for this writing in the world - I'm privileged to be able to read it.
Katy
It reminded me of reading a zine, but it also felt like a story that was carried for a long long time and only set down and released when it was truly ready to go.
Jamie Canaves
I usually read non-fiction a couple chapters at a time between inhaling fiction. I’m not really sure why, but I do.

In this case I inhaled this book.

Before I was even halfway through reading I had already looked up her back catalog to read.

Leah’s writing is poetic and impactful. Her details, like knowing the price of food items and the cheapest meal she could make to literally survive off of, had a way of crawling into me and putting me beside her. Her journey from being a brown girl in the US
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Lauren
Apr 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book during a week of total personal chaos, which is a caveat to everything I am about to say here.

I feel like I fell into this book, like I started reading it and suddenly it was all around me. The narrative jumps back and forth in time and circles around. This threw me off, but in a way that made me pay closer attention to the present of the words. I think, especially for able-bodied, straight, white folks, this novel is a gift, an insight into a world often overlooked and unseen.
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Hannah
this is an important book. this is a book in a long lineage of femme writers, and a long lineage of healers and survivors. these are the kinds of stories we need to exist, to be told, to be retold, to be shared, and to be preserved and passed down. femme and survival are both lineages; we need the stories of elders to show us possible shapes for our futures. and we need love stories that are this kind of complicated, the kind of complicated that is twisted up with big power and longtime patterns ...more
Amanda
Apr 10, 2018 rated it liked it
I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy this book after the rocky start of the first couple of chapters, but it quickly picked up the pace and was an engaging and brutally honest self-examination of race, class, disability, gender, and sexuality. She says aloud things that I imagine we only say to our secret selves and would never dare share with another human being (or maybe that's just me). However, the editing of this book was incredibly lazy. It was painfully repetitive and seemed that she had ...more
Laura
Dec 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes when you go to a book reading and think - "this is gonna be so great" you go home and read it and realise all the best parts were read at the reading and it really doesn't feel the same without the author's physical voice - but this book was every bit as good as the reading!
I loved the journey that was the book.
Also I love books that are written in Toronto - this city that is my home.
Tori
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
i finally finished reading this memoir after avoiding it for a few weeks. as a queer femme/ish of color who wonders what 'home' means, it resonated on many frequencies. it serves me well to remember that this memoir is a 'mix-tape' of stories. sometimes the mix-tape had scratches and/or was set onto repeat one or three too many times for my taste. and. i celebrate the author's fucking determination to finish their memoir despite it taking 10 years. yes.
M.
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was one of those books that fell into my hands, a rapid exchange, zine trade of my own work for the book. And I didn't know what to expect so I just start reading it and chapters in kept having that uncanny sensation... The timing/rhythm is strong. A crossroads interaction. A book that did a mixed race working class survivor like me good.
Jacob Wren
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha writes:

I was twenty-one years old. Which is the age of some of the youth I work with and love, and now that I am no longer twenty-one, I can see just how young and old they are. At the time, I didn't know how to feel my youth or my age. I was a crazy girl-bomb old young woman, but no way in hell was I young in any way that meant vulnerable.
Lindsay
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Terrific memoir of being a survivor and discovering the sometimes-terrible, sometimes-heartening truths about one's self and family. It had such a transportive sense of time and place. The only drawback for me was that the end felt a bit abrupt and disjointed, but it never stopped me loving words she was putting down on the page. Can't wait to read more by Piepzna-Samarasinha.
Amber
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"It's queer Black and brown femme love work we do. Love labor. We are pursuing PhDs in how to get good, good love that's not bullshit."

"What comes after the disaster we keep surviving every day?"

Pragya Esh
Feb 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Leah manages to weave together stories of love, pain, trauma, abuse, memories, home, longing, and, of course, brown femmeness. courageous writing and beautiful stories of pain and resistance that hit so close & so far from my own home in my own body with my own distance from my south asian history.
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The offspring of a Sri Lankan father and a Irish-Ukrianian mother, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha was raised in Worcester, Mass, an eastern rust belt city known for dirty water and busted buildings. A scholarship baby from the age of 8, they moved to New York at 18 to get a BA from Eugene Lang College / New School for Social Research, but ended up learning a lot more from the student, squatter, ...more
“I realize how much I have wanted this and not gotten it [good love], realize how much it is branded in my heart that, to be happy, alone, and childless is a fucking gift that most women get brainwashed into relinquishing.” 6 likes
“Sometimes surviving abuse isn't terrible. Sometimes, when you leave your whole life behind, it feels blissfully free. Stepping away from everything you've known. The bliss of your very first door that shuts all the way. Wind between your legs. Stopping everything that happened for seven generations.

Free. Free. Free.”
4 likes
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