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Guapa by Saleem Haddad
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1005171,702 (4.09)8



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"I live within this prison of contradictions that fight one another like stray cats in my mind."

Spanning a day in the life of Rasa, bookended by two epic events, we see his life reflected through flashbacks. All at once this story was told with passion, difficulty and humour. It was heart breaking, as the weight of 'eib' (a version of shame) - determinedly clings to everything and everyone. We see how momentous events, of world scale, manifest themselves in the lives of ordinary people. The characters are struggling to define themselves, whilst the city around them is descending into chaotic destruction. Everyone has a vision of the ideal - from an activists plans for a dream city, radiating neighbourhoods out from a network of mosques, to Rasa dream to live together with his lover. This was a fantastic debut novel - it wove into the fabric of the story such important history and issues - in such a way they seamless floated with the story, with no hint of any heavy handedness. ( )
  Mitch1 | Mar 25, 2018 |
Rasa has been educated in America and is a translator for western journalists in an unnamed Arab country. I got the feeling that the story took place not many years of 9/11.
Taking place over the course of 24-hours, Rasa must confront the man who he really is. The day starts off horrifically when he learns that his beloved grandmother, the woman who raised and loved him, saw him with his lover, Taymour, the night before. He feels guilty and deceitful. Grandma has taken to her room.
Rasa cannot stand to know the dishonor he has brought on his house. Taymour doesn’t seem as in love with Rasa as Rasa is with him. He receives vague texts from Taymour about their relationships, which seem counter to the man Rases loves.
The next day, Rasa learns that his best friend, drag queen Maj, has been arrested. Maj is star at Guapa, an underground gay bar. He roams the city’s slums, looking for Islamist rebels, finds himself at Guapa, and eventually winds up at a wedding. Through it all, the backstory of Rasa’ life are interwoven, giving the narrative an unbalanced feeling.
I get that that’s to help the reader feel what Rasa is feeling, but that unsettling wasn’t consistent. There were times, like Rasa’s life, the book was riveting and times that the story seemed to drag. Upon reflection, debut author Haddad did a remarkable job. However, I didn’t care for this story. The bouts of compelling reading interspersed with lengthy, rather boring text just can’t make me like the story. And I still don’t understand why the book was named after a bar. Maybe I missed it.
I give Guapa 2 out of 5 starts. ( )
  juliecracchiolo | Jan 26, 2018 |
At 27 Rasa lives with his grandmother in al-Sharqiyeh, a large city in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. He works as a translator for foreign journalists because he speaks fluent English after going to college in America. The novel Guapa by Saleem Haddad spans 24 hours in Rasa’s life that are an emotional flash point. He has participated in the Arab Spring protests, wants change for his country, but the pressure to get married and live a life of lies explodes when his grandmother catches him in bed with his boyfriend. Suddenly, her knowledge and the events of the day ahead means that everything and nothing matters.

Rasa’s sexuality has been a source of confusion and shame for him since he was a young teenager. Haddad complicates this issue with the fact that both of his parents are gone, his father from cancer, but his mother as only a disappearance from his life. His grandmother’s traditional beliefs and the social structure in his country leave him no room to maneuver so he hopes that the time away will allow his feelings and identity to coalesce. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of 9/11 his college years are spent defending/hiding/apologizing for his nationality. His attempts at dating are abortive and ultimately, he directs his energy outward

I took all my rage and channeled it into activism, into human rights and justice and things that were clear and simple. I was passionately angry about the unjust wars, the brutal occupations, the massacred children, and the exploitation of people for profit and the pursuit of new markets. The angrier I became, the less time I had to think about how lonely I really was. I would never have admitted it to myself at the time, but underneath it all I wanted nothing more than to satisfy an inherent feeling of the unfairness of the world in my own life. p. 245

Through Rasa, Haddad encapsulates the passion of a group of young people who are striving to mesh dreams of freedom with the culture of their homeland. Scenes of police brutality, abject poverty, and the fear of being locked up for unknown infractions are pervasive throughout Guapa. That Haddad then layers in the most intimate aspect of human nature—who we love—and wraps it all in the heavy cloak of eib (the Arabic concept of shame) makes Rasa’s situation even more oppressive. His idealism about the protest movement wanes as he realizes it has become religiously radicalized. Under a fundamentalist government he will have fewer social freedoms than he does now.

Haddad propels the plot of Guapa through its 24 hours with a pace that conveys the building tensions in Rasa’s mind and his inability to keep it all together. Where things wobble is regarding his mother. Her disappearance early in his life seems largely unremarkable for most of the story but then becomes paramount to his feelings of resentment and abandonment towards the novel’s end.
While this dilutes the energies of the many vital elements in Guapa it is still a forceful work that provides worthwhile insight to a world most of us will never experience. ( )
  cathgilmore | Mar 31, 2016 |
Reading this story was amazing! The struggles faced by the young man were seemingly insurmountable. If only seeing coming out and gay life in a Muslim world were presented that would have been fine. Even escaping his native world and coming to America to attend college was not what it seemed to be. Experiencing the events of 9/11/2001 as a Muslim, a visitor to the U.S., guilty while being innocent was eyeopening. But this is not a sob story. It is simply a persons struggle to come to terms with his own life in a world not unlike our own, one where it is better to be invisible and safe rather than open, honest and truly free. ( )
  iluvvideo | Mar 26, 2016 |
Reading Guapa means spending 24 hours in the life of Resa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, as he reflects on the immediate trauma and past events of his life. The stories of his father’s death, his mother’s departure, and his difficult relationships with friends and lovers, are interwoven through a tale of his struggle to discover his place in the world. This novel delivers so much more than it promises, delving deep into Resa’s mind to explore issues of marginalisation within every community Resa tries to discover an identity for himself. Resa struggles to find somewhere that he belongs and is on a constant search to find meaning in the definitions that other people put onto him, based on his nationality, sexuality, religion (or lack of).

This is an amazing novel that explores complex issues in a delicate and sensitive way, bringing them to life through vivid characters and an evocative landscape. I found myself nervous before the ending, worrying what Resa was going to do and what would happen to him. I wondered how he would react at the wedding and if it would destroy him. Being able to see through a small window in to a world that I’m not a part of was exhilarating and terrifying in equal measures, as I found myself wanting to argue with almost everyone Resa came into contact with. ( )
  booksonshelves | Feb 6, 2016 |
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The morning begins with shame.
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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.… (more)

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