Liebestrasse: A Review by T.S. McNeil

photo of a blurred motion

There is a notion, particularly among reactionary conservatives, that LGBTQ folk, though that is not the term the likes of Gavin McInnes use, have only existed since the 1960s. A blinkered opinion based on ignorance and queer as a three-dollar bill that utterly ignores landmark works of queer culture like The Boys In The Band, first performed Off-Broadway in 1968, a year before things kicked off and the bricks started to fly at the Stonewall Inn. Not to mention the works of Sappho to take things all the way back, the Greek islander penning some of the most beautiful verses dedicated to passionate, and unabashedly sexual, woman-woman love ever committed to paper, or papyrus in those days. Leaving little question as to why the term ‘sapphic’ for queer women and girls persists to this day. As well as being one of the least problematic ones there even issues around the general term of ‘lesbian.’  

Celebrated editor and first-time author Greg Lockard understands this history, somewhere between Sappho and The Boys brilliantly. His debut work Liebestrasse – a variation on the German for ‘exalted love’ – tells a story of Germany in the 1940’s few but JoJo Rabbit director Taika Waititi dare touch. Opening in 1952 New York, our hero, the stereotypically square-jaw American stud Sam, divides his time between his work as an executive at an international bank – his corner office has a a view of the Empire State Building, and the modern art gallery where he meets guys, usually around the Rothko. One of the ‘secret gays’ who had a thriving community in New York since the 1890s, Sam as a good life, especially for a member of the LGBTQ community at the time. Things turn on dime when – this isn’t a spoiler, it literally happens on page 7 – he is sent by his bank to Berlin, still unified at the time, which has been well occupied by the ‘Four Armies.’ Britain, the United States and France in the western section of Germany, and the notorious ‘Russian Sector’ in the east, there already whispers of a wall to be built between the western and eastern sections when Sam arrives.

‘Whisper’ is the operative word, Lockard refreshingly light with the foreshadowing and brutality, focusing instead on the delirious dream of the post-WWI Europe – referred to unironicaly at the time as ‘the war to end all wars’ – when Sam invariably flashes back to his first visit in 1942, the narrative becoming a lovely if tragic love story between Sam and Phillip, a tall and beautiful German who befriends him. Their forbidden relationship happening in a place and time that to go against presumed morality carried a death sentence. 

The German government of the time as a place in the story, as to ignore it would be intellectually dishonest, but Lockard, and illustrator Tim Fish, give them the treatment they deserve. Showing them as either absurd and delusional or very much like monsters. The latter is especially clear with the foot-soldiers, who are mostly rendered boots, long black-coats and helmets, the latter of which obscure their eyes. Compare this to the British soldiers Sam asks directions on his return to Berlin, dressed in functional greens topped with stylish berets, their unthreatening, boyish faces clearly seen, it is obvious where Lockard’s and Fish’s sensibilities lie.

Born in the far north, T.S. McNeil was attending art galleries before he could walk. Earning concurrent degrees in Art History and Political Science, he has written on Arts and Culture both in print and online since 2002, starting while still in college. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his dog, and firmly believes that Marie-Gabrielle Capet was criminally underrated.

%d bloggers like this: