Review of ‘We Can Be Heroes: A Survivor’s Story’ by Paul Burston

A brilliant, very moving memoir from journalist, novelist, producer and activist Paul Burston. He is the founder of the LGTBQ+ Polari literary salon and the Polari Prize book awards. Sometimes a controversial figure, his life, as documented in this book, is a rollercoaster of a journey. Although at times it was very sad to read about Paul’s experiences, I found the book to be warm-hearted, audacious and compelling. It has a lot of humour too and fab celebrity anecdotes, not just name-dropping but actually meaningful ones.

Book cover of 'We Can Be Heroes' by Paul Burston

The title of this book is from David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. Bowie’s music has been a lifesaver for Paul and is referenced throughout the book, with Paul eventually meeting his hero. Other influential musicians featured include Marc Almond, Jimmy Somerville, Boy George, Neil Tennant, George Michael and Pete Burns.

There is a particular focus on what it meant to be gay, especially if you were out, in the 80s. The threat of violence, the blatant discrimination, internalised homophobia, the issues which divided the gay community, losing many dear friends to HIV / AIDS and the fear of going for a test. Paul describes the high times as well as the low, most notably how he was on a path to self-destruction with an awful lot of drug use, risky behaviour and survivors’ guilt. While there is much pain and anger in this book there is hope and love too. An incredibly candid and well-written memoir.

Thank you to the publisher Little A (part of Amazon) for the advance copy via NetGalley. The book will be published on 1st June.

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