Recently hailed by his native country’s press as “the first Moroccan to have the courage to publicly assert his difference,” Taïa’s calmly transgressive work has “outed” him as “the only gay man” in a country whose theocratic law still codes homosexuality a crime. The persistence of prejudices on all sides of the Mediterranean/Atlantic marks the translations of Taïa’s work (which has now appeared in Spanish and Dutch editions) as both literary and political events. Due to a lingering, remarkable dearth of Arabic-language cultural and literary writing translated into English, the arrival of Salvation Army in English will be received by an American audience already familiar with a growing cadre of talented Arab writers working in French (that includes Muhammad Dib, Assia Djebar, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Abdelkebir Khatibi, and Kãtib Yãsin) — an American audience that has also been subject to increasing confusion over the understanding of Arab identity by the distressingly prominent rhetoric of war.
An Arab Melancholia
Translated by Frank Stock
I had to rediscover who I was. And that’s why I left the apartment. . . . And there I was, right in the heart of the Arab world, a world that never tired of making the same mistakes over and over. . . . I had no more leniency when it came to the Arab world. . . None for the Arabs and none for myself. I suddenly saw things with merciless lucidity. . . .
–An Arab Melancholia
Salé, near Rabat. The mid 1980s. A lower-class teenager is running until he’s out of breath. He’s running after his dream, his dream to become a movie director. He’s running after the Egyptian movie star, Souad Hosni, who’s out there somewhere, miles away from this neighborhood–which is a place the teenager both loves and hates, the home at which he is not at home, an environment that will only allow him his identity through the cultural lens of shame and silence. Running is the only way he can stand up to the violence that is his Morocco.
Translated by Frank Stock
An “autobiographical novel” in the American avant-feminist tradition of Chris Kraus (I Love Dick), Eileen Myles (Cool for You), and Michelle Tea (The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America), this most recent work by Moroccan expatriate Abdellah Taïa is a major addition to the new French literature emerging from the North African Arabic diaspora. Salvation Army is a coming-of-age novel that narrates the story of Taïa’s life with complete disclosure — from a childhood bound by family order and latent (homo)sexual tensions in the poor city of Salé, through an adolescence in Tangier charged by the young writer’s attraction to his eldest brother, to his disappointing “arrival” in the Western world to study in Geneva in adulthood — and in so doing manages to burn through the author’s first-person singularity to embody the complex mélange of fear and desire projected by Arabs on Western culture, and move towards restituting their alterity.