Review- Guapa

Guapa by Saleem Haddad

9781590517697Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
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.

Advertisements

Review- A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

4.5/5 stars

Binding: Hardcover
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: October 20th, 2016
Page count: 365

29475447Lovelace is learning to navigate to her body kit, something that she doesn’t consider part of her ‘self”, since she is really a program running inside of it. She is getting used to her new home with Pepper and Blue and they are getting used to having her, as they’ve had to make many changes to keep her comfortable. Lovelace doesn’t understand why Pepper is so adamant that she can survive in a kit; She feels like it’s not possible due to the way she was programmed specifically for a ship. She has no idea how Pepper grew up and what AI’s were in her life from a young age. Slowly, Lovelace learns to function in her new world and Pepper opens up about her dark upbringing.

I’ve loved Becky Chambers since I got through the first 10 pages of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet last year. The way she creates and describes alien cultures is so real. Honestly, it makes you feel like these species have been around your whole life, not that you’re just learning about them now.

In her last book, I loved the way Becky Chambers played around with gender. Some of the alien creatures she describes change genders throughout different periods of their lives. This also means that their pronouns change many times in the book. A Closed and Common Orbit was no different. Tak, one of Lovelace’s friends, changes from female to male. No one questions it or struggles with the pronoun change. Tak just is Tak and everyone adjusts to the way their identity changes. I think Chambers does an amazing job showing that gender is a social construct and, also, that it is completely different from sex. In addition, everyone is assigned gender-neutral pronouns until they indicate their gender or pronoun preferences. This kind of trans-inclusive language is key for transgender folx to feel safe and respected, and it really makes the reader think about the preconceptions we hold about people before getting to know them in our own society.

Becky Chambers completely has the sci-fi formula down pat. She includes everything you need in a well written, page turning, science fiction novel. Some of these ingredients include a system of unique planets that house different species, space travel, artificial intelligence, alien cultures, and alien relationships. I have yet to come across another author who completes their sci-fi formula so efficiently. I swear, I could give A Closed and Common Orbit to anyone, even those who don’t enjoy classic science fiction novels, and they’d enjoy it. She really knows what she’s doing.

Lastly, I want to point out the way Lovelace is treated– as a character. Yes, she’s a spaceship program loaded into a body kit. Yes, she’s not considered a full human in her world and is technically committing a crime by merely existing. Despite all this, Chambers treats her like a ‘real’ person and gives her the same existence as everyone else in the book. I know AI’s aren’t really part of diverse reading, but it was comparable, in my mind. Giving someone, who society considers a less-than, the same opportunities in a story as the rest of the characters is what queer characters, characters of color, and characters suffering from chronic illnesses want to see in literature. I know it’s not the same, but I felt really good reading A Closed and Common Orbit for this reason (and many others outlined in this review!).

Just as I expected, I absolutely loved this book. It’s definitely different from her first book, considering most of the plot takes place on a planet and not space, but that’s not a bad thing in the slightest. I will continue to support Becky Chambers throughout all of her works, as I recognize the importance of the way she treats gender, in addition to the extraordinary way she describes alien species and their behaviors. If you’re looking for an outstanding science fiction novel, this is it.