Guapa, Saleem Haddad’s debut novel, was published by Europa in 2016. It tells the story of a young gay man called Rasa living in an unnamed country during the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Set over one day and littered with flashbacks, it explores Rasa’s own personal turmoil over his grandmother discovering him in bed with his lover amid the political turmoil around him.
Haddad said: “I would recommend Jean Genet's Prisoner of Love. It was his final piece of work, and recounts his time with Palestinian resistance fighters in the refugee camps in Jordan in the 1970s. He approached the Middle East's complex and long-running conflict, and those fighting on the frontlines for freedom, with a certain sensitivity and a queer sensibility”.
Mid-20th century French writer Genet spent much of his life in and out of prison including for thievery and ‘lewd offences’. His work attracted controversy for its frank depictions of homosexuality at a time when it was still illegal. Genet wrote about underworlds, unspoken experiences, and life on the margins of society – from criminal gay life to Palestinian refugee camps to civil rights movements.
Haddad’s own novel is named after the secret nightclub where his LGBT characters congregate. Both writers explore the tension between public and private gay identity – secret spaces created by queer communities, and how one negotiates queer identity in a world where to be gay is to be threatened by violence and exile.