A “provocative and seductive debut” of desire and doubleness that follows the life of a young Palestinian American woman caught between cultural, religious, and sexual identities as she endeavors to lead an authentic life (O, The Oprah Magazine)
On a hot day in Bethlehem, a 12-year-old Palestinian-American girl is yelled at by a group of men outside the Church of the Nativity. She has exposed her legs in a biblical city, an act they deem forbidden, and their judgement will echo on through her adolescence. When our narrator finally admits to her mother that she is queer, her mother’s response only intensifies a sense of shame: “You exist too much,” she tells her daughter.
Told in vignettes that flash between the U.S. and the Middle East—from New York to Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine—Zaina Arafat’s debut novel traces her protagonist’s progress from blushing teen to sought-after DJ and aspiring writer. In Brooklyn, she moves into an apartment with her first serious girlfriend and tries to content herself with their comfortable relationship. But soon her longings, so closely hidden during her teenage years, explode out into reckless romantic encounters and obsessions with other people. Her desire to thwart her own destructive impulses will eventually lead her to The Ledge, an unconventional treatment center that identifies her affliction as “love addiction.” In this strange, enclosed society she will start to consider the unnerving similarities between her own internal traumas and divisions and those of the places that have formed her.
Opening up the fantasies and desires of one young woman caught between cultural, religious, and sexual identities, You Exist Too Much is a captivating story charting two of our most intense longings—for love, and a place to call home.
Arafat's poignant if uneven debut explores the love affairs and relationships of its narrator, a queer Palestinian woman. Arafat opens with the unnamed narrator in a relationship with a woman named Anna in Brooklyn. When the narrator's mother visits, it becomes clear that she disapproves of her daughter's sexuality, refusing to even entertain the idea of her being in a relationship with a woman. After Anna discovers sexually charged emails between the narrator and a former professor, along with other evidence that she's been cheated on, Anna leaves. Spiraling in the wake of Anna's departure, the narrator checks herself into rehab for love addiction. The narrative follows the narrator through rehab, then on to grad school in the Midwest, and a move back to New York, as she picks up and discards lovers along the way. Woven throughout are stories of childhood summers spent in Jordan, a semester in Italy after falling out with her college roommate/secret-lover, and, most crucially, the narrator's beautiful, mercurial, and perpetually dissatisfied mother, whose approval and attention are what the narrator most desires. Despite the rushed final third, Arafat writes movingly of being caught between identities, homelands, and obligation and desire. This difficult but heartfelt wonder delivers an emotional wallop.