Guapa by Saleem Haddad

Ralph Haddad
Editing by Toby Sharpe

Cover art by Emanuele Ragnisco

When I first read Guapa, I was taken aback by how relevant the book was to my own life. The narrative follows a queer Arab protagonist, as he navigates a day in his life in an unnamed Arab country. The opening scene sees the main character, Rasa, the morning after his grandmother – with whom he lives – catches him in bed with another man. This opening scene sets the tone for the entire narrative – themes of anxiety, self-doubt, tension, hopelessness, and shame come to dominate the story. It was the first book I read where I thought to myself: “Yes. This is it. This guy understands it.” The author, Saleem Haddad, is a self-identified queer man of various heritages – among them Lebanese, Iraqi, and Palestinian. The book itself follows the fairly conservative form of the conventional English novel; it does not claim to reinvent the wheel. It is not the most experimental work with a queer element that was published in 2016, but it is exceptional and refreshing in its content. Guapa was published originally in English under a publisher based in New York. The novel quickly received wide acclaim from contemporary Arab authors, such as Randa Jarrar, and ended up on many end-of-year lists on media platforms such as BuzzFeed and the Guardian. Haddad himself ended up on Out magazine’s one hundred most influential people of 2016.

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