Saleem Haddad’s Guapa tells the story of Rasa, a young gay man living in the Middle East, coming to terms with his identity. It follows Rasa’s childhood, his relationship with absentee parents, his time living in America pre and post 9/11. In this time, we see how cultural tradition and law embed shame and fear surrounding his sexuality. We watch him experience sexuality covertly and learn of the secret spaces carved out to create safety for people to be themselves. When he moves to America, we watch his racial identity become a part of his experience with the world and see how 9/11 drastically shifts his experience of race in America. His return, and ultimate reckoning with his family and relationships eventually show us how he has developed and the ways all of these experiences come together to form his identity. This novel is a worthwhile read because of its nuanced look into culture, sexuality and race. It also portrays an emotional depth in the characters and relationships that is captivating and impactful. It is easy to get drawn into this book. It is easy to feel what Rasa is feeling. It is also a novel that moves through time well. Though we see many moments spanning across various times in Rasa’s life, it is never confusing. The pacing is clear and easy to follow. It is the type of novel that teaches you a lot, but does it in such an engaging, effortless way, that it does not feel like learning. It is a pleasure to accompany Rasa on his journey. For those looking for an engaging, impactful read, I would absolutely recommend Guapa.
Book Review: Guapa
Guapa, by Saleem Haddad