A review of R.B. Lemberg’s The Four Profound Weaves
By Kris van der Voorn
Don’t worry about transphobic, sexist, or racist writers anymore: the new generation is here, and they are taking down every notion we have of privileged hierarchies.
A breath of fresh air is blowing through the literary scene, and amidst it is the voice of R.B. Lemberg. This queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel has taken it upon themselves to force feed the public a beautiful debut masterpiece of inclusivity and diversity: The Four Profound Weaves.
If we want to talk about emergent writers of the 21st century, it’s become clear that one of the most important aspects to pay attention to is their ability to display an understanding of inclusivity and diversity.
We live in an era of ‘woke culture’; we expect our cultural products to be aware of and actively fighting social and racial injustice. Many publishers have begun shifting their attention to authors outside the category of the “cisgendered, heterosexual, White man.” Lemberg’s novel reflects this zeitgeist.
The Four Profound Weaves is situated in ‘Birdverse’, the LGBTQIA+ focused fictional world of Lemberg’s creation. Birdverse has been used in most of Lemberg’s previous work, which has received multiple award nominations. It is a world featuring a Bird deity that can appear before people. Many won’t meet her before their death; however, a select group has mastered the skill of weaving “the four weaves” that will bring Bird to the world: a carpet of wind for change, a carpet of sand for wanderlust, a carpet of song for hope, and a carpet of bones for death.
At the novel’s start, most weaves have been taken hostage by the Ruler of Iyar, a city built on oppression and sexism. In this book the great weaver Uiziya and ‘The Nameless Man’, an old transman learning to live his life after performing as a mother and grandmother for most of his life, have to work together to take back the weaves and learn to materialize the last of the four weaves, death, through the bones of the silenced and oppressed that lay in the vaults underneath this city.
In this stunning debut, Lemberg raises matters that normally would be too sensitive to discuss, had it not been for their own experience with them. Most poignant is their treatment of trans-related topics. In addition to showing the struggle that can exist in a trans person’s life, Lemberg also celebrates the experience of being able to be one’s true self. Lemberg shows this conflict of identity within ‘The Nameless Man’, as he struggles with his former life, but they are delicate with how this experience is portrayed. His story feels like a love letter to the character and his struggles.
Lemberg does a spectacular job of making fellow trans people feel seen and their varying, as well as shared, experiences heard.
The juxtaposition between the acceptance of trans people in geographically different parts of The Four Profound Weaves are cleverly displayed by Lemberg, with the city with a more negative outlook being depicted as more heteronormative than cities where it is accepted and normalised. ‘The Nameless Man’, who struggles throughout the book with his identity, grew up in Iyar where transitioning is frowned upon. The trans people in his new village, however, don’t share this same struggle. Their city, known for its weavers of the carpet of wind, which is needed for transitioning, never shows any problem with accepting gender identities. This provides a brilliant commentary on our society’s struggles with anything else than the heteronormative standard.
Another important topic Lemberg points out is the deadnaming of trans people. This is a highly delicate matter that has been a topic of discussion around several artworks in recent years. A controversial example is ‘The Last of Us 2’. In this videogame, written by a cisgender, heterosexual, White man, a character’s deadname has been written into the story as a way to explain that he is a transman. Many fans of the game pointed out that this was not essential to the plot and therefore unnecessarily hurtful. In contrast to this, Lemberg managed to be educational and careful about the topic. Rather than using deadnaming as a form to add drama to the story, the book educates the reader on how it should be handled.
The Four Profound Weaves already has established itself as a queer must-read. It normalises the notion of same sex and polyamorous love, of genderfluid characters and the use of pronouns other than “he” or “she”. At the same time, it is a book that does so in such a fluent, easily explained manner that no reader would ever feel like they require more knowledge of queer jargon to understand the story. In short: In The Four Profound Weaves, Lemberg succeeds not only at constructing a fictional world that displays all the most important political points of the LGBTQIA+ community, they did so in a non-threatening and remarkably smart way. The book enacts the commitment to inclusivity it describes. Certainly, it is a debut, and there are some small elements that Lemberg ought to improve upon in future work. For example, they could have been more elaborate on storylines and character development. For a first-time author, however, Lemberg does it so well, and it is exciting to think about what can come after this. They have woven a fairy tale of inclusion that rises to the complexities of our time.
Kris van der Voorn is one of the chief editors of RevUU. They are a non-binary writer and spoken word performer, currently pursuing the Literature Today Master’s at Utrecht University. They specialize in queer and politically engaged literature. Their goal is to make RevUU as diverse and inclusive as possible. Aside from their studies, Kris works at Savannah Bay, one of Utrecht’s finest bookshops. They are also a content creator for the online platform VOOS.
Author image by Lee Russell
Lemberg, R.B. The Four Profound Weaves. Tachiyon, 2020.