Book Review: Guapa by Saleem Hadaad

Synopsis from 

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.

Ratings: 3/5

My thoughts

I came across this book by chance so I didn’t have any high expectations for it. I pretty much selected it based on the ratings on goodreads, which was about 4 stars out of 5.

When I picked up this book, I had no idea it was about an Arab man who was homosexual. I was pleasantly surprised. My first thought was, is Saleem allowed to write such a book? Is he based somewhere in the West where he is untouchable? What about generalization, he might appear to speaking for all Arab countries? I was genuinely scared for his life. But the book was published early 2016, so if something was going to happen to him, it would have already.

I guess this brings me to our misconception about the Arab world. I think we’ve been conditioned to think they have no freedom and are so different from the rest of the world that I thought that a book like this couldn’t come out of there.

All this to say I liked the topic of the book. I liked how Rasa was with his friends. They were just regular young adults living life, falling in love, getting their heartbroken and trying to please their guardians. All of this was happening during a civil unrest in the country, an unnamed country.

My first thought after I finished the book was, “is this it?” all the stories seemed unfinished. The 2 main stories were the civil unrest, the rebels trying to over through the current government and Rasa love life/ identity. Both stories were not completely developed and didn’t come to satisfying finish for me. But as I thought about it some more, although fiction, it is just reminder that in the midst of civil unrest, life still goes on. People’s lives don’t just stop because of rebellions and war, etc… this was an eye opener for me because when I hear about wars and chaos in a country, I rarely think about people having lives outside of the chaos. Does that make sense?

The 24 hour time frame to tell a story this significant didn’t do it for me. The jumpiness of him talking about mom, to dad, to Teta, and his past didn’t do it for me. His time in America and the friendships he formed I felt was irrelevant to me as a reader, unless i missed something.

Overall, I liked the book because of the topic itself. An Arab man who was gay, searching for his identity.

If I were Saleem, I probably would have divided this book into 2 or 3 novels because there is massive room for development. But for a first novel, I think he did what he had to do to get people reading. I am looking forward to his future works. He seems promising.
Have you read Guapa?


One thought on “Book Review: Guapa by Saleem Hadaad

  1. I have not read, “Guapa,” but I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. There are plenty of homosexuals throughout the Middle East, but they have to stay closeted/secret due to fears of persecution. They would be put to death. It makes my heart ache that a country would have such a policy.


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