Publication Date: Mar 08, 2016
List Price US $13.99
List Price US $16.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
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, and trying to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and religious upheaval. Rasa spends his days translating for Western journalists, and pining for the nights when he can sneak his lover, Taymour, into his room. Then one morning Rasa’s grandmother, the woman who raised him, catches them in bed together. The following day—the day leading up to Taymour’s wedding—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, he 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.
Excerpt from Guapa
The morning begins with shame. This is not new, but as memories of last night begin to sink in, the feeling takes on a terrifying resonance. I grimace, squirm, dig my fingers in my palms until the pain in my hands reflects how I feel. But there is no controlling what Teta saw, and her absence from my bedside means that she doesn’t intend, as she had promised, to file away last night’s mess in a deep corner of her mind.
On any other morning my grandmother’s voice, hoarse from a million smoked cigarettes, would pierce my dreams: Yalla Rasa, yalla habibi! She would hover over me, her cigarette by my lips. I would inhale, feel the smoke travel to my lungs, jolting my insides awake.
This is not how I wake up this morning. Getting up today involves battling demons more powerful than sloth. There is everything that has ever happened, and then there is this morning. I’ve crossed the red line with Teta.
I reach for my cigarettes. The cigarette will stimulate my brain. Thoughts will begin moving. I light one and inhale. My throat is raw from last night’s pleading, and the smoke burns as it makes its way down.
Open the door. Open the door right now.
What compelled her to look through that keyhole?
With his piercing eyes and thoughtful lips, Taymour always reminded me of a young Robert De Niro. I need to see those honey-colored eyes again, run my fingers across the soft hair on his forearms. I was so foolish to ignore the signs, to believe in a future that would never exist. Now it’s just me here, alone in bed. But I can’t part with him this way, on these terms. Last night can’t be the last we have together. I want to hold him, whisper in his ear that we can get past this. Can I not turn back the clock, turn that damn key in the lock to block the view?
“As one of few queer novels with an Arab protagonist, [Guapa] must not be overlooked. If Guapa finds its way into the canon of queer literature, we will all be stronger for it.” —Lambda Literary
“Family, identity, and politics collide in Haddad’s debut…The topic of gay life in the Arab world is richly complex, and Haddad’s cinematic, evocative prose rises to meet the sensitive subject matter.” —Publisher’s Weekly
“A remarkable debut.” —The Huffington Post
“Those looking for a nuanced portrait of gay life in the modern Middle East will find plenty to admire in this … promising debut.” —Kirkus Reviews
“So much insightful commentary is packed into Guapa, on themes ranging from the effects of bilingualism to the symbolic appropriation of the keffiyeh, but none of it disrupts the narrative flow. This immensely readable novel is fluent, passionate and emotionally honest. Equally astute in its analysis of Arab and American mores, the book’s characters are nuanced and dynamic; it gives fresh life to the maxim “the personal is political.'” —Guardian
“Haddad’s unwavering dedication to detail, narrative arc, and consequence make Guapa necessarily poignant, uncomfortable, and meaningful. Like all good art, it moves beyond itself to shine a light on the world it bears.” —PopMatters
“A provocative and emotional coming of age story, Guapa is an excellent debut novel.” —Bustle
“Guapa shines beautifully in its moments of sweetness and satire.” —Full Stop
“Haddad presents a striking look at gay life, the psychological cost of conformity, and what it means to be true to yourself from a Middle Eastern perspective.” —Booklist
“Guapa sets Haddad up as a literary voice capable of narrating untold stories of the modern gay experience, from one of the most complicated parts of the world.” —Attitude Magazine
“Guapa deftly captures the surrealism both of living a double life and navigating the hall of mirrors within which a quasi-totalitarian regime encloses society.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“By turns politically nuanced and romantically tender.” —Next Magazine
“An engrossing and timely debut novel by a provocative new voice. Haddad’s characters are unforgettable.” —Randa Jarrar, author of A Map of Home
- How does Rasa’s understanding of his identity change when he studies overseas? What prompts this change in understanding?
- On page 182 Rasa acknowledges, as he writes his name, that “It was no longer simply a name my mother had fought to call me.” What is the importance of names and naming in Guapa? Are there other instances in the novel where Rasa explores naming? Why is he so interested in naming himself?
- On page 123 Rasa says, “I feel shame for many things.” What does Rasa feel ashamed of, and what is he not ashamed of? At the end of the novel, does Rasa still feel shame? Who else in the novel shares Rasa’s burden of shame? When he’s being interrogated Rasa experiences “fear and shame” (pp 138, 142.) Why do you think shame is so closely associated with fear for Rasa?
- Compare the relationship Rasa has with Maj to the one he shares with Taymour. What are the similarities and differences between the two? At the end of the novel Rasa enters Maj’s car and they begin the day together. Do you think Rasa will be able to maintain any kind of communication with Taymour at all?
- The country where Guapa takes place remains unnamed, but the city is called al Sharqiyeh. What is Rasa’s relationship to the city? How does he describe the city?
- Toward the end of Taymour’s wedding Rasa says, “The only person who betrayed me was myself” (p 325). What do you think he means by this?
- On page 79 Rasa willfully misinterprets something, which he recognizes as an act of power. When else does Rasa exercise power, and how?
- Rasa often expresses feelings of helplessness, as on page 51 when he says “I am not smart enough to find the solution to the country’s problems,” or on page 91 when he says, “Let’s choose ambivalence.” Why do you think he feels this way? Is there anything his father has said to him that may have lead him to this feeling? At the end of the novel, does Rasa still feel helpless?
- Could a parallel be made between the regime that controls the country and how Teta runs the household? How is the story of Rasa’s family linked to the history of the unnamed country in Guapa?
- Rasa disagrees with Ahmed, the homophobic leader of the opposition, but he still wants to have a dialogue with him. On page 90 he says, “I want to tell Ahmed some things and to ask his opinion of many more.” Why do you think Rasa wants to maintain a dialogue with Ahmed, despite their diverging views?