Guapa by Saleem Haddad
Publication date: March 8, 2016
Publisher: Other Press
Page count: 354
Star rating: 4/5
“This Arabness. This Muslimness. This was all new. A new marker of difference. A “thing” I had been my whole life. A thing which I had previously not given a second thought. But this was not just any old thing. No. This was a thing that killed and maimed and destroyed.”
Rasa is a gay man living in a Muslim country. He has previously been part of the protests and rebellion in his country, but at this point in his life, he is unsure where he stands. Rasa currently lives with his grandmother, who, to her horror, caught him and his lover in bed the night before. The two aren’t on speaking terms, as Rasa flees the house in the morning and his grandmother coincidently sleeps in abnormally late. Rasa is frantically texting his lover, begging that they try and make their relationship work. The responses he’s getting are short and unpromising. In the span of 24 hours, Rasa contemplates his identity—his homosexuality and Arabness—and his place in his country and the world.
Disclaimer: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK IF YOU GET SAD EASILY! Wow, Guapa made me feel depressed. I seriously spent an entire night moping around after I finished this book. It really took a toll on me. That being said, I still enjoyed it very much and want to share my thoughts with you all!
Guapa is a brilliant novel. It has so many components to it: a political revolution, a religious battle, the questioning of the narrator’s Arabness, and homophobia. I feel like I should read this book a second time in order to process everything. The part that grabbed my attention the most was Rasa’s internal dialogue about his homosexuality. He doesn’t like how his lover is one foot in and one foot out the door, ready to cover up all of his feelings for Rasa in order to conceal his homosexuality at the snap of a finger. His lover doesn’t like to spend time at the local drag bar, in fear that someone he knows will recognize him. Rasa is not like this, though he hides his sexuality, he is not as secretive as his lover. It was really interesting reading Rasa contemplate his relationship in his head. He feels like his lover has betrayed him, because he promised that last night wouldn’t be the last time they saw each other, but now he’s acting like he needs to think their relationship over. This fascinated me.
I liked how Guapa took place over a span of 24 hours. Much of the book was told in flashback format, though the writing was not confusing at all. I enjoy books that successfully tell a lot in a short timespan, like The Catcher in the Rye, because it proves that an author does not need to write about many events in order to make a book great. So much went on in Guapa, so much that I’m not sure that I understood it all. Rasa’s entire life, spanning from the death of his father when he was a child, through his cultural experimenting in college, and to the protests in present day, is described in this book. Yet, only 24 hours pass by in the 354 pages. Saleem Haddad did a fantastic job with this book.
I’m so glad I got this book from the Other Press booth at BookCon. I enjoyed getting to know Rasa and seeing him sort through his internal battles about his identities. Guapa taught me a lot of lessons about general racism and internalized racism; some of which I really needed to hear. Thank you, Saleem Haddad, for writing this wonderful book. I look forward to reading more titles from Other Press in the future.