For Desta, the East African capital encompasses some of the happiest and saddest parts of his life–his first home and the place where his father died. When an unavoidable work obligation lands him there for twelve weeks, he may finally have a chance for the closure he so desperately needs. What Desta never expected was to catch a glimpse of his future as he reconnects with the beautiful country and his family’s past.
Elias Fikru has never met an opportunity he hasn’t seized. Except, of course, for the life-changing one he’s stubbornly ignored for the past nine months. He’d be a fool not to accept the chance to pursue his doctoral studies in the U.S., but saying yes means leaving his homeland, and Elias isn’t ready to make that commitment.
Meeting Desta, the Dominican-American emergency relief worker with the easy smile and sad eyes, makes Elias want things he’s never envisioned for himself.
Desta and Elias have both been avoiding decisions about their individual futures. They aren’t happy where they are, but they aren’t miserable and there are benefits to staying stuck. Desta and Elias find each other and in so doing find the courage to move forward, towards joy. Herrera also shows the joy of Ethiopia. It is a country rich in life and culture and recovering from war and civil strife. Herrera’s portrayal of Ethiopia is grounded and complex – the joy of coffee, the joy of early morning runs with local children, the complexity of being gay in a country where that is illegal.
One thing you can count on in an Adriana Herrera book is the joy her lovers find in each other’s bodies. Her love scenes are passionately physical and messy. There is nothing soft focused about them. One of my discomforts with some cis women who write m/m romance is the feeling that they have such prescribed ideas of what two men expressing desire looks like. Herrera not only gives her queer characters a happy ending, she also lets them revel in each other.
As a side note, I initially went to grad school to pursue a degree in International Development, hoping that I would be able to do good in the world. The more I studied and interacted with people who did the kind of work I thought I wanted to do, the more I saw the problematic elements to the whole industry of international development and aid. After giving it a lot of thought I didn’t feel like I would do more good than unintended harm, so I abandoned that degree. But I still have a lot of friends in the field and Desta and his colleagues, good and bad, are familiar to me.
I think I’ve read all but one of Adrianna Herrera’s books to date. She’s has so much love and respect for her characters and the worlds they inhabit. She manifests that love and respect in the deliberate ways she tells the story. That may sound like an obvious thing to say about an author and her own work. Of course writers shape the experience the reader will have. Herrera is protective of her characters and her queer BIPOC readers while being welcoming to readers like me – white women, some of whom might be tempted to focus on the exotic. She makes sure that her characters and their worlds stay grounded and real. Keeping the story of Finding Joy focused on how Desta interacts with his colleagues, ex-pat and local, keeps the reader out of the Western savior fantasy weeds. She keeps Desta focused on his relationships with the people around him, so that we meet Ethiopia not as a foreign locale, but as a childhood home he is rediscovering as an adult. Elias is never a magical tour guide, but a man with his own interests, ideas, and struggles.
I received Finding Joy as an advance reader copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Finding Joy is out now. It is lovely.