A FINALIST FOR THE 2022 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2023 ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE
ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022 – Boston Globe, BuzzFeed, LitHub, Electric Literature, LGBTQ Reads, Latinx in Publishing
*Recommended by The New York Times*
In this contemporary debut novel—an intimate portrait of queer, racial, and class identity —Andrés, a gay Latinx professor, returns to his suburban hometown in the wake of his husband’s infidelity. There he finds himself with no excuse not to attend his twenty-year high school reunion, and hesitantly begins to reconnect with people he used to call friends.
Over the next few weeks, while caring for his aging parents and navigating the neighborhood where he grew up, Andrés falls into old habits with friends he thought he’d left behind. Before long, he unexpectedly becomes entangled with his first love and is forced to tend to past wounds.
Captivating and poignant; a modern coming-of-age story about the essential nature of community, The Town of Babylon is a page-turning novel about young love and a close examination of our social systems and the toll they take when they fail us.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
A man’s questions about race, class, and sexuality bubble to the surface in this deeply felt novel. An illness in the family forces accomplished professor Andrés back to his suburban hometown—just in time for his high school reunion. But revisiting the past is complicated for Andrés, particularly because his former classmates include not only his now-married old flame Jeremy, but also a violently homophobic church minister. Alejandro Varela evokes an intoxicating nostalgia as Andrés drifts through vignettes of his past life, while the author’s nuanced descriptions turn suburbia into its own character. Poignant and heartfelt, The Town of Babylon is a thought-provoking and emotional read that’s part homecoming story and part fish-out-of-water tale.
A gay Latinx man reckons with his past when he returns home for his 20th high school class reunion in Varela's dazzling debut. Back in his unnamed suburban hometown, Andres, now a professor of public health, crosses paths at the reunion with Jeremy, his first love; and Paul, a homophobic bully. As an old malaise returns, he confronts his feelings about his older brother's death a decade earlier, and Varela sets the stage for a series of backstories. After being spurned by Jeremy as a high school senior, Andres begins frequenting a local cruising site known as the Queer Steer. Of Andres's burgeoning identity, Varela writes, "Gay was after all dangerous.... Gay was a death sentence. Gay was a target." Now, in the days after the reunion, Andres jeopardizes his marriage by reigniting things with Jeremy. He also confronts Paul, a Christian minister at a storefront church, about beating a gay man at the Queer Steer years earlier. Varela ably describes teenage Andres's conflicted feelings toward Paul, who overcompensated in high school for being scrawny: "a push and pull of desire, belief, and self-hatred." Throughout, he wrings a great deal of emotion from Andres's return. It makes for an incandescent bildungsroman.