A debut novel that tells the story of Rasa, a young gay man coming of age in the Middle East
Set over the course of twenty-four hours, Guapa follows Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, as he tries to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and social upheaval. Rasa spends his days translating for Western journalists and pining for the nights when he can sneak his lover, Taymour, into his room. One night Rasa's grandmother — the woman who raised him — catches them in bed together. The following day Rasa is consumed by the search for his best friend Maj, a fiery activist and drag queen star of the underground bar, Guapa, who has been arrested by the police. Ashamed to go home and face his grandmother, and reeling from the potential loss of the three most important people in his life, Rasa roams the city’s slums and prisons, the lavish weddings of the country’s elite, and the bars where outcasts and intellectuals drink to a long-lost revolution. Each new encounter leads him closer to confronting his own identity, as he revisits his childhood and probes the secrets that haunt his family. As Rasa confronts the simultaneous collapse of political hope and his closest personal relationships, he is forced to discover the roots of his alienation and try to re-emerge into a society that may never accept him.
Family, identity, and politics collide in Haddad's debut. Rasa is an American-educated young man living in an unnamed Arab country. Disenchanted with the failed revolution of a few months prior and tired of his work translating for foreign journalists and businesses, Rasa finds hope and comfort in the arms of his lover, Taymour. However, one morning Rasa's grandmother Teta discovers him and Taymour in bed together: "There is everything that has ever happened, and then there is this morning." The tumultuous day takes Rasa from his grandmother's apartment, to slums to interview Islamist rebels; to a police station to bail out his best friend, activist and drag queen Maj; to the underground gay bar Guapa; and eventually to Taymour's lavish wedding to a woman. Throughout the novel, episodes from Rasa's past bleed into the narrative. Much as Teta spied on him and Taymour through a keyhole, Rasa examines his inadequate memories, trying to understand how everything fits together and how he can build a future, with or without the man he loves. It's a puzzling choice for Haddad to keep the setting unnamed. During America's post-9/11 bombing campaigns, Rasa thinks, "The city... had become shorthand to describe an event. The country that once existed was no more." That pattern is perpetuated here, but for whose benefit? Haddad, a former aid worker and consultant, navigates Rasa's interior and exterior worlds with empathy and care. The topic of gay life in the Arab world is richly complex, and Haddad's cinematic, evocative prose rises to meet the sensitive subject matter.
The main character, Rasa takes the reader around and about, in and out of his culture, family, friends, classmates, and finally finds himself.
Stunning! To see inside the soul of Syria, and that of young gays there, is a profound gift.
An interesting look at queerness in the Middle East
An excellent book that describes what it feels like growing up gay in the Middle East as well as the current conflict going on. I disagree with some of the more dramatic choices but at the same time this book is important just because there's nothing like it and it feels good to be finally represented.