Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Family, identity, and politics collide in Haddad's debut. Rasa is an American-educated young man living in an unnamed Arab country. Disenchanted with the failed revolution of a few months prior and tired of his work translating for foreign journalists and businesses, Rasa finds hope and comfort in the arms of his lover, Taymour. However, one morning Rasa's grandmother Teta discovers him and Taymour in bed together: "There is everything that has ever happened, and then there is this morning." The tumultuous day takes Rasa from his grandmother's apartment, to slums to interview Islamist rebels; to a police station to bail out his best friend, activist and drag queen Maj; to the underground gay bar Guapa; and eventually to Taymour's lavish wedding to a woman. Throughout the novel, episodes from Rasa's past bleed into the narrative. Much as Teta spied on him and Taymour through a keyhole, Rasa examines his inadequate memories, trying to understand how everything fits together and how he can build a future, with or without the man he loves. It's a puzzling choice for Haddad to keep the setting unnamed. During America's post-9/11 bombing campaigns, Rasa thinks, "The city... had become shorthand to describe an event. The country that once existed was no more." That pattern is perpetuated here, but for whose benefit? Haddad, a former aid worker and consultant, navigates Rasa's interior and exterior worlds with empathy and care. 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. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
In an unnamed Middle Eastern country, a young translator deals with the fallout after his grandmother catches him with another man. Set against the backdrop of a country on the brink of civil war, Haddad's debut novel follows a young gay man, Rasa, over a tense 24 hours. First his grandmother catches him in bed with his lover, then his best friend is arrested at a gay cinema. As Rasa grapples with these conflicts, he also remembers his pastfrom his sexual awakening to his four years in America for college to experiences at his one refuge, the neighborhood bar/underground gay club that gives the novel its title. Rasa, introspective and witty, makes a sympathetic narrator, and the story is filled with moments of heartbreak and tension (a loaded scene involving Rasa, the Western journalist he translates for, and a husband-wife team of Islamic revolutionaries is especially well-done). But a certain coyness pervades the narrative, at times distracting from an otherwise absorbing story. For a novel so much about place and politics, Haddad's decision not to identify the Arab country where the bulk of the narrative is set, nor the American city where Rasa studies, is difficult to understand. It also leads to some clunky phrasing: a woman wears a T-shirt "which has the name of the college I went to in America," etc. More frustrating, at times Haddad seems so bent on saving the major confrontations for novel's end that early sections become bogged down in bouts of interior monologue. Still, readers will find no shortage of characters they'll want to spend time with, and a dramatic wedding scene at the end makes up for earlier missteps. Those looking for a nuanced portrait of gay life in the modern Middle East will find plenty to admire in this flawed but promising debut. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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