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

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  625 Ratings  ·  81 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
Paperback, 240 pages
Published November 3rd 2015 by Arsenal Pulp Press (first published October 13th 2015)
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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.
Sassafras Lowrey
Nov 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
yay for queer femme survivor storytelling
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
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.
May 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, poetry, queer
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Überlebenskampf, Armut, Inzest in Form von sexualisierter Gewalt, häusliche Gewalt, aber auch Migration, Erwachsenwerden, Sexualität, den eigenen Weg finden, die eigenen Menschen - Leah erzählt ne einzigartige Geschichte, die doch soviele vertraute Komponenten für mich hat. Ich schätze es sehr wie sie soviele Menschen die ihr auf dem Weg geholfen haben, beim Namen nennt. Ich gebe dem Buch aber nicht alle Sterne, weil ich nicht so mit der sexuellen Sprache klarkam - fisting fisting fisting - und ...more
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
tw: abuse

I tore through this book in a 2 sittings (something I don't usually do, even for very short books), which is a testament to Piepzna-Samarasinha's ability to draw readers into her vivid experience of world. I am so thankful that this book exists. As a survivor, it is profoundly touching to read another survivor's account of abuse that names the abuse for what it is & gives the reader a glimpse at the specific ways she survived it (going so far as to give us a literal recipe of a chea
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs, queer, madness
This book sent so many thoughts, feelings & memories bubbling to the surface. It kind of wrecked me in the best of ways.

It was a book that made me want to write all the things I have not yet written.

It is a book about finding yourself, belonging, and healing.

Although as a white woman, there are experiences that I can't directly relate to (Piepzna-Samarasinha's journey to claim her identity as person of mixed Sri Lankan ascent is central to the narrative thread) I could relate to the feeling
Short Version

Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a very powerful memoir with a mixture of extremely strong and good writing. It's very feminist and inclusive in its approach of sharing a message of survival, identity, finding oneself and building a new life with the support of a loving network. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is very frank, graphic and raw about her survival of sexual, mental, emotional and physical abuse. I also got
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Reading Dirty River is being choked up, always. An attempt to maintain even breathing. If not, dry-heaving will inevitably occur. What is it with profs in my department who assign gut-wrenching readings? Don't they know that half of these texts are read on public transit? Do they want to make their students cry on the bus, squinting away from the false spring sunlight?

I don't want to say 'raw'. I want to say, abrasion. A grasped-at throat gripped tight. I've begged to be choked enough times; I k
I read this book as part of my women and gender studies/English class. I took the class simply so that I could read books like this - true stories of people from the LGBTIQ community, but Leah Samarasinha's story is more than that.

When I first began reading the book, I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but before I knew it, I was absorbed and moreover - I found myself attached to Leah. Not only because I could relate to her love of books, and with her being a feminist, but because eve
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The daughter 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, she 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, sp ...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.” 5 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.”
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