By Nadia Abuelezam
1. You probably have little knowledge of what its like to be a gay Arab man living in the Middle East (unless you’re a gay Arab man). I’m as open minded as the next person and I have one heck of an imagination… But I still don’t feel like I could have understood as much as I do now about the experience of closeted gay men in the Arab world if I hadn’t read Guapa. The intricacies of the novel will make you feel like you are experiencing the stigma, shame, and everyday discrimination that Rasa (the main character) endures on a daily basis. During the three days that it took me to finish the novel, I found myself going through so many emotional twists and turns including fear, shame, and shock. I felt like I was experiencing a small portion of the emotional turmoil that gay men in the Middle East face everyday due to backlash and stigma. It’s this understanding and empathy that I gained by reading Guapa that I think makes it a good investment of time and energy.
2. You’ll learn a lot about your own grandmother and family dynamics in the process. One of the most significant characters in the book is Rasa’s grandmother (Teta). Her discovery of Rasa with his partner in bed starts the novel’s exciting and fast paced 24-hour journey. But the way in which Saleem describes Rasa’s grandmother’s characteristics, nuances, and intricacies made me constantly think of my grandmother and her similar behavior. Saleem has really managed to encapsulate so much about the Palestinian Teta in this novel. I could relate to her treatment of Rasa throughout the book and the social cues that she bases her behavior on, despite not dealing with the same issues as Rasa. I learned more about my grandmother after reading Guapa because I came to the understanding that there were many central beliefs, values, and tendencies that all Arab grandmothers feed from. It’s helpful to know that it wasn’t just my grandmother that made me feel like I was doing things wrong in daily life, even if her criticisms always came from a place of love.
3. The novel is as much about politics as it is about social issues. The novel delves deep into political issues that are tied to everyday existence in many countries in the Middle East. Saleem does an excellent job of exploring the complex relationships between politics and social issues. The presence of war, bombings, and terror feature highly in the backdrop of this novel and add to the complexity of being gay in the Arab world. Not only will the novel encourage you to face your own understanding of sexual minority issues, but it will force you to think about the political and violent backdrop of many Arab countries and the ramifications of these environments on the people living in these regions.
4. Supporting Palestinian writers and artists is important. It also encourages young aspiring writers and artists. By supporting writers, poets, and artists that are from Palestine you are giving voice to a population that doesn’t often get heard in the mainstream artistic community. By buying the book or asking for it to be carried at your local library, you are also encouraging others to learn about a topic or region you may not be familiar with. Supporting authors like Saleem helps encourage younger Palestinian writers and artists to be encouraged to continue with their work and pursue their dreams.
5. It’s a really well written, fast paced, and entertaining piece of fiction! And even if you don’t care about the political, social, or cultural ramifications of the novel, you still will be entertained by this awesome piece of fiction. Happy reading!
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