Son of Sin by Omar Sakr

Omar Sakr won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for poetry in 2020 for his collection The Lost Arabs, and this is his first major work of fiction. Son of Sin follows a young gay man navigating his way through his emerging sexuality and his tight-knit Australian Lebanese family and community. For many migrants, family and community are essential support systems as they try to start new lives in a country that is suspicious of them and often hates them. The young are constantly stopped and harassed by police; the adults are disrespected, and their individuality is ignored. For young Jamal to be gay as well, in a community where homosexuality is anathema, is an extra source of turmoil and conflicted feelings.

Jamal’s mother lives with a mental illness, and his Turkish father left the family when Jamal was a child, returning to Turkey before Jamal could properly know him. Much of Jamal’s care has been relegated to his aunt and his extended family. As he becomes more conscious of his sexuality, he slowly realises that the conflict between his desire and his strict Muslim family will force him to make choices that he doesn’t really want to make. His father’s abandonment plagues him, so when his father reaches out and asks Jamal to come to Turkey, he’s hesitant but decides to go. His father is a charming schemer, at once a surprise and a disappointment, but it is in Turkey that Jamal falls in love for the first time and allows his father a glimpse of who he is.

We read fiction for many reasons but one of the great pleasures for me is gaining an insight to worlds and feelings that are unknown to me. This is a marvellous book that will speak to many people from different marginalised communities directly, but in showing us a common humanity, Sakr’s impressive novel also gives many other readers an insight into experiences unfamiliar to them.

Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings.