Drawn from the author’s experiences growing up in a Paris banlieue, a powerful, lyric debut that explores the diverse, often conflicting facets of her identity—French, Algerian, Muslim, lesbian.
The youngest daughter of Algerian immigrants, Fatima Daas is raised in a home where love and sexuality are considered taboo, and signs of affection avoided. Living in the majority-Muslim suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, she often spends more than three hours a day on public transportation to and from the city, where she feels like a tourist observing Parisian manners. She goes from unstable student to maladjusted adult, doing four years of therapy—her longest relationship. But as she gains distance from her family and comes into her own, she grapples more directly with her attraction to women and how it fits with her religion, which she continues to practice. When Nina comes into her life, she doesn’t know exactly what she needs but feels that something crucial has been missing.
This extraordinary first novel, anchored and buoyed by the refrain “My name is Fatima,” is a vital portrait of a young woman finding herself in a modern world full of contradictions. Daas’s journey to living her sexuality in spite of expectations about who she should be offers a powerful perspective on the queer experience.
French writer Daas debuts with a frank and fervent work of autofiction about a woman's attempts at integrating her clashing religion and sexuality. Fatima Daas is the youngest daughter in her Muslim Algerian family, the only one born in France. The dizzying timeline follows Fatima from her early childhood in the 1990s when she develops a severe case of asthma, through middle school when she's an androgynous "misfit" and dating boys in high school in order to fit in, to her late 20s when she falls in love for the first time, with a woman named Nina. As a consequence of growing up in a family where speaking of love and sexuality are taboo, Fatima doesn't know how to articulate her feelings for Nina. While the author's terse style sometimes leaves little room for reflection ("After my birth, my mother has a heart attack, at thirty. I blame myself for being born"), Fatima's sustained ambivalence is realistically conveyed through repetitions of "My name is Fatima," followed by descriptive passages such as, "a girl who isn't really a girl, who isn't Algerian or French, who isn't from Clichy or Paris, a Muslim I think, but not a good Muslim, a lesbian whose homophobia is built into her." Overall, it's a provocative exercise.