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King of Angels, A Novel About the Genesis of Identity and Belief Perfect Paperback – March 24, 2012


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Product Details

  • Perfect Paperback: 370 pages
  • Publisher: Belhue Press; First Edition edition (March 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1892149141
  • ISBN-13: 978-1892149145
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,959,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Listen, do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell?

King of Angelsby Perry Brass.


We all have our literary heroes. I have several: Edmund White, Christopher Bram, Felice Picano, Andrew Holleran and Perry Brass are authors for whom I will stop whatever I am doing when I hear they have new books out. Not only do I get good stories but I get lots to think about and for me, this puts them a rung above the others. I love a book that forces me to consider who I am and my purpose in life. Thinking is perhaps what makes us different than other species but stop and think about how many LGBT writers have caused you to think about yourself and about what they have written.


Simply by virtue of the fact that Brass's subtitle contained two words that I love identity and genesis let me know that even before I opened the covers of King of Angels, it was going to be a very special read. It is set at a time that I lived through, in the South and is about a boy who has Jewish blood which I do. The time is 1963 and the Civil Rights movement is just catching on. At the same time, gay men of the world were coming forward and looking for both acknowledgement and acceptance. Benjamin Rothberg lives in one of the suburbs of Savannah, GA, and is twelve years old. His home is the Isle of Hope and he lives with his mother, Caroline, a beautiful Southern White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) and his father, a dark Sephardic Jewish salesman. Benjy is not exactly sure who he is: if he is a Christian or a Jew; if he is real; or only a boy who is pretending to be. He goes to a Catholic school, Holy Nativity Military Academy, strictly yet compassionately run by monks. Here he finds his closest friends. You must understand that it is not strange for a Jewish boy to attend Catholic school in the South, especially during this era when public schools were being segregated and education was on a stop-go continuum.

Benjy also meets one very special boy, Arthur Gomez, who steals his heart. Benjy is a boy who can change to fit the mood and at the same time keep his own unique features and if you have ever lived in the South, you know why this is sometimes necessary. He is forced to shift from Jewish to gentile, from being intelligent and precocious to acting like a normal regular boy. While he is quite probably gay, he must act as if he loves girls.


Many of you may not know but the Jews played a very important role in the desegregation of the South. Racial explosions were quite common then and racial consciousness was something everyone was aware of. At the same time, gay men were climbing onto the battle of Civil Rights and demanding acceptance. This was a time when both Jews and gays were not totally open with whom they were and I realize that this is somewhat contradictory to some of what I have already written. But we live as a series of as a series of contradictions and we change with he mood.

Oy so much of this book rang true for me and so much of it I also experienced. I have always wanted to write about it but Perry Brass has beaten me to it and has done so in eloquent and beautiful prose. This is not a short book but I sat down to read and did not stop until I all devoured all 360 glorious pages. I laughed and I cried but most of all I thought and I remembered how it was growing up in one of the most turbulent periods of American history when communities tried to come together. I think we forget sometimes America is a melting pot of many different groups . . . Will we ever see a day when we can all sit together and eat from the same pot? I don t know and I doubt any of us do but we can all hope that there will be a day like that. Accepting ourselves is part of it all and Perry Brass helps us with that in his brilliant new book. Now back to read it all over again. --Reviews by Amos Lassen (reviewsbyamoslassen.com), March 26, 2012.

Perry Brass belongs to that rarified group of writers including myself and Leslea Newman who have been nominated for 5 or more Lambda Literary Awards and never received one. That all 3 of us work in different literary forms and genres is a given. We write prose, poetry, drama, non-fiction, even children s books. Literary judges, unable to look beyond the page in front of them, don t know what to make of us. Up till now, Brass has written science fiction, religious fiction, erotica, you name it. With King of Angels, however, Brass has finally written a more or less acceptable piece of literature although it is actually more than that and the book is a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award and who knows what other honors may fall upon it.


Why? Because it's a growing up and coming out story. Brass spins several variations on the theme that makes it increasingly, excitingly, odd. The little boy protagonist is growing up in the South. His mother is a Gentile, gentle, Southern, almost sophisticated woman. But his father is a Northener and a Jew, handsome and somewhat suspect, whose sources of income are unclear, uncertain, and eventually even criminally prosecutable.


This makes Benjy a most interesting misfit, even amid the small, ingrown Jewish community in his town. To make it even more complex, his father places Benjy in a Catholic Academy for his middle years, saying it s the only superior school around. So Benjy is a complete outsider, even more so than the one beautiful and doomed Puerto Rican scholarship boy in his class. His most natural mentors are grown Christian religious teachers, and or his father and his father s best friend Andy. But the teacher is questioning his faith, and the adult friend is even more suspect than Dad and probably a betrayer too.


Benjy goes through all of the expected tropes of growing up, becoming a man, finding himself academically, physically, sexually; he does so with curiosity, panache, and a refreshing sense of his own self esteem. Along the way as tragedy occurs and near-tragedies mount up, Benjy also develops a strong sense of self preservation, along with a slow-growing conviction as every adult fails him that he can only rely upon himself.


The reader is quite entertained by all of this: not only with all the contradictions and mix-ups natural to such an individual, but also by the way Brass delineates several small, often opposite, families and societies that Benjy falls into and out of. The Catholic kids are for the most part put upon, hassled, and controlled to within an inch of their lives, but then strangely free in many other respects. So it s no wonder that they act out in bullying, aggression, and other boy-on-boy mishaps. But the Jewish kids Benjy hangs out with are portrayed as spoiled and smug and they utterly lack independence. His one wiser older friend who refuses to conform ends up in and out of institutions. By the way, each child is wonderfully characterized, even the girls Benjy is expected to romance are well (and humorously) individualized.


That would be enough to make King of Angels a good book. But lurking beneath this veneer, Brass uses his novel to ask a variety of questions about how children see the world for themselves and eventually how they make various choices despite parents, despite teachers, despite society, despite religious teaching, and despite each other. That has been for decades how almost all LGBT kids grew up in America, and I applaud Brass for making his Benjy such a little mensch. King of Angels is a sobering, truthful, yet subversive text and Perry Brass most accomplished work. --Felice PIcano in Out in Print (Outinprint.com, May, 2013)

About the Author

Originally from Savannah, GA, poet, novelist, publisher, playwright, and activist Perry Brass has published 16 books, winning numerous awards for his poetry, plays, and fiction. He has been involved in the gay rights movement since November of 1969, when he co-edited Come Out!, the world's first gay liberation newspaper. In 1972, with two friends he started the Gay Men's Health Project Clinic, the first clinic for gay men on the East Coast, still operating as New York s Callen-Lourde Clinic. The Health Project Clinic, operating from a basement in New York's West Village, strongly advocated for the use of condoms by gay men a decade before the first advent of AIDS, even though most gay men still considered them to be a birth control device. In 1984, his play Night Chills, one of the first to deal with the AIDS crisis, won a Jane Chambers International Gay Playwriting Award. As a poet, his collaborations with composers include the much-performed All the Way Through Evening, a cycle of 5 nocturnes in reaction to the AIDS epidemic, set by the late Chris DeBlasio which became the title for a recent documentary by Australian filmmaker Rohan Spong about young composers who've died of AIDS; The Angel Voices of Men set by Ricky Ian Gordon; Three Brass Songs, with composer-pianist Fred Hersch; The Restless Yearning Towards My Self with opera composer Paula Kimper; and 12 Musical Figures, set by Gerald Busby (score for Robert Altman s film 3 Women and Paul Taylor's Runes).

With his partner Hugh, he started Belhue Press in 1991. Perry Brass's work often deals with that intersection of sexuality, spirituality and personal politics that came directly and openly out of his involvement with the radical gay politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This intersection was deemed impossible by many academics and even gay activists of the early years of the movement, who could accept one but none of the other elements that now make up the large and diverse lgbt movement. Among many other activities, he is currently a coordinator of the Rainbow Book Fair, the first and largest LGBT book fair in the U.S.


More About the Author

Originally from Savannah, Georgia, I am an author/poet/playwright and certainly an activist--a lot of my work originated in my own early political activism in the movement for Gay and Lesbian Liberation. I grew up in the nineteen fifties and early nineteen sixties, in equal parts Southern, Jewish, economically impoverished, and (very much) gay. To escape the South's violent homophobia, I hitchhiked at age 17 from Savannah to San Francisco--an adventure, I like to say, "like Mark Twain with drag queens." As a young man I worked as an artist's model, on the floor of an aircraft factory, and, in the "Mad Men" period of knife-to-the-throat-anything-goes-advertising in the art departments of Madison Avenue ad agencies.

I have published 16 books and been a finalist six times in 3 categories (poetry; gay science fiction and fantasy; spirituality and religion) for Lambda Literary Awards, as well as winning numerous awards for my poetry, plays, fiction, and other writings, including 4 prestigious "IPPY" Awards from Independent Publisher. My novel KING OF ANGELS was named a finalist for a prestigious 2013 Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction from New York's Ferro-Grumley Foundation, the first time a novel from a small press like mine was ever named a finalist. I feel that my work is unique in that it combines frank depictions of human sexuality, deep spiritual values, emotional depth, political insight, and (often) outrageous humor. Fortunately, this has given me a wonderful following of readers who don't pigeonhole themselves---or my writing.

I've been involved in the gay rights movement since November of 1969, soon after the Stonewall Rebellion, when I co-edited "Come Out!," the world's first gay liberation newspaper. All the issues of Come Out! can now be read online at Outhistory.org [http://www.outhistory.org/wiki/Come_Out!_Magazine,_1969-1972]. "Come Out!," one of the most powerful documents of the early Liberation phase of the LGBT movement, is also available as The Come Out Reader, published by Christopher Street Press, on Blurb [http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/3229148?alt=The+Come+Out!+Reader%2C+as+listed+under+Gay+%26+Lesbian].

Later, in 1972, with two friends I started the Gay Men's Health Project Clinic, the first clinic for gay men on the East Coast, still surviving as New York's Callen-Lourde Community Health Service. In 1984, my play "Night Chills," one of the first plays to deal with the AIDS crisis, won a Jane Chambers International Gay Playwriting Award.

As a poet, I have collaborated with many composers. These collaborations include the words for the much-performed "All the Way Through Evening," a haunting cycle of five songs evoking the tragedies of the AIDS epidemic, set by the late young Chris DeBlasio; "The Angel Voices of Men," set by Ricky Ian Gordon, commissioned by the Dick Cable Fund for the New York City Gay Men's Chorus which premiered it at Carnegie Hall and featured it on its "Gay Century Songbook" CD; "Three Brass Songs," with famed composer-pianist Fred Hersch; "The Restless Yearning Towards My Self," with New York City Opera composer Paula Kimper; and lately, "Twelve Musical Figures," a series of short songs set by Gerald Busby, the marvelous composer of the score for Robert Altman's classic movie "Two Women."

I am currently treasurer of the Greater New York Independent Publishers Association, and a coordinator of New York's Rainbow Book Fair, the oldest book fair and cultural conference in the U.S. solely devoted to the books of LGBT authors and publishers. I also write for the Huffington Post, and have a blog on Wordpress. These blogs are linked to my Author's Page, so you can see what I'm doing there.

Right now I am working on a book about desire--how it shapes us, despite our fears--and the deeper, more secret forms of it that we either allow or deny. I want this book to be a companion book to my popular THE MANLY ART OF SEDUCTION, and I hope that readers who followed that book will pick up this one, too.

I love to do readings, and I have been included in several documentaries about the lgbt movement and its culture. I am featured in "All the Way Through Evening," a documentary about young composers who died of AIDS, directed by Australian filmmaker Rohan Spong. I live in the Riverdale section of "da Bronx" with my partner of 32 years, but as I like to say, I can cross bridges to other parts of America without a passport. I love hearing from readers, and you can find out how to reach me in any Belhue Press book.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By H. Williams on July 2, 2012
Format: Perfect Paperback
There is much to be admired and enjoyed in Perry Brass's latest novel but it's slightly buried behind a misleading veneer. Brass often writes about spirituality and sexuality in his fiction. He has written a number of speculative fiction novels and even a time-travel novel about angels. The title "King of Angels" has a pious ring to it. The picture on the cover includes both hunky angels and a shirtless young stud in prayer, and the blurb below the picture promises that it is "a novel about the genesis of identity and belief." The opening epigraph is a mystic quote from the ancient Popol Vuh, so I was primed to read a speculative or spiritual novel. Instead, I found a young voice telling a good old fashioned coming of age story mixed with a murder mystery that takes place in a unique setting period in recent history.

King of Angels might be compared to Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," substituting the turbulent 1960s with Lee's depression-era setting and replacing Catholic-Jewish antagonism and homophobia for the race relations that drive "To Kill a Mockingbird." Both novels take place in distinct areas in the "Deep South." Both novels feature a young queer narrator who recognizes that they must figure out the secretive adults and hypocrisy in their community before they can take their place in the racist or homophobic world around them.

Benjy Rothman, the agreeable narrator of "King of Angels," is 13 years old at the beginning of the novel with a Jewish father and a non-religious Episcopalian mother. Benjy's father is often out of town on business and therefore sends him to a Catholic military academy in Savannah to make a "man of him.
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By S. P. Thompson on December 7, 2013
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This is a book about coming out as Jewish or trying to find an identity in the confused period of the 60's. It touches a lot of topics--anti-Semitism; homophobia; racism; the beginning scandal in the Catholic Church and the results of cover up; and all this is in a 13 year old boys prospective. That would be the only complaint that the book covers too much inner conflict.
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I loved, The King of Angels. It was one of those "weekend books", I could not put down for two days until I finished it! Living in Savannah made it even more interesting for me and gave it a whole new prospective about living in Savannah during the 60's. The locations are wonderfully described. The book is well written and describes adolescent first crushes and sexual feelings in an eloquent way. The book also explores the sometimes unknown and somewhat invisible Jewish community in Savannah, which can boast one of the oldest congregations in the USA, established in the early part of the XVIII Century. A XXI Century Classic. Very classy
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By D. Casto on April 13, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This story has a lot going on in it...coming out, religious struggles, teen age angst and the need to fit in, an alcoholic mom, a father in jail that is dying. It could be a bit much if the writer didn't weave the tale so well.
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By Amazon Customer on October 30, 2012
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Beautifully written and touching novel of growing up gay. The author has a wonderful grasp of how it feels to be a pre-teen, young gay teen, learning to find his place in the world. Loved it.
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By Amazon Customer on September 21, 2012
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The second part of the title of this work by Perry Bass is most certainly an accurate description of what this book is about: a novel about the genesis of identity and belief. While the main character Benji straddles the two worlds of Jews in the South and southern old money, he is trying to navigate the Scylla and Charibdis of his own sexuality and identity. Who is he, what is he and how does he get there. There is sexual tension throughout the novel but it only serves as the energy for his struggle to become who he is. Is it what his Jewish father wants, is it what he thinks his mother wants for him, is it what Jesus or Moses wants? And yet, it is not just about Benji. The entire constellation of characters is in the same process in some way shape or form. Having attended a Catholic military school, living in the South, and traveled a similar path, the novel rang quite true.
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