Archive for the ‘Novel’ Category
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
In this photo taken on May 13, 2009, Moroccan writer Abdellah Taïa, is pictured at his apartment in the Paris Belleville district. In “Salvation Army” his latest and first book to appear in English, Taia talks frankly about coming to grips with his sexuality and leaving his family to start a new life in Europe. (The Associated Press/Remy de la Mauviniere)
PARIS – A soft-spoken slip of a young man, Abdellah Taia hardly looks the part of an iconoclast. But as Morocco’s first high-profile, openly gay man, Taia has made it his mission to win acceptance for homosexuals throughout the Muslim world.
Taia has defied Moroccan society’s don’t-ask, don’t-tell attitude toward homosexuality – and prison sentences that are still on the books in the North African kingdom – to write five autobiographical novels about growing up poor and gay in the northern coastal city of Sale.
The novels, peppered with sexually explicit passages, have catapulted him to fame in his native country and made him the de-facto poster child of its budding gay rights movement.
His work has sparked harsh criticism. Taia said some outraged critics have called on him to renounce Moroccan citizenship so as “not to bring shame” on the country.
It’s also alienated him from his parents and eight siblings, who figure extensively in the books and complain that Taia has publicly humiliated them.
But the 35-year-old author insists he’s never been cowed by fallout from his work.
“When I write, I feel a sense of urgency, as if my life depended on it,” Taia said in an interview in Paris, where he has lived for almost a decade. “When I first started writing, it never occurred to me to invent some fictional character and talk about made-up things.”
His latest novel, “L’armee du Salut,” or “Salvation Army,” focuses on his decision to move to Europe. An English translation recently came out in the United States, with an introduction by author Edmund White.
Though Taia immigrated legally – he was awarded a scholarship to study in Switzerland – his experiences in Geneva paralleled those of thousands Moroccans living in Europe without papers.
After his older Swiss lover who was supposed to pick him up at the Geneva airport never shows up, a penniless Taia seeks refuge at the Salvation Army, where he lives among illegal immigrants from throughout the developing world.
In the book, he also talks about his blooming sexuality, describing teenage trysts in the back of dark movie theatres and flings with European tourists looking for more than sun on their Moroccan holidays.
Like nearly all Arab countries, Morocco considers homosexual relations a crime, punishable by fines and prison sentences of six months to three years. Such penalties are rarely applied, though, and in practice Morocco has a long history of leniency toward homosexuality and other practices forbidden by Islam.
Asked whether he sees himself as courageous, Taia said, “The most difficult thing was to work up the courage to pick up the pen and write for the first time.”
He grew up with a family of 11 sharing a two-room house. His father, a petty civil servant, and a his mother, an illiterate housewife, emphasized their children’s education, sending five to college.
That was where Taia began to write. Surrounded at Rabat University by children of Morocco’s French-speaking elite, he began to keep a diary to improve his written French.
His journals now serve as the foundation of his novels, which are written in French and have been translated into seven languages, including Arabic and now English.
NOTE: “Salvation Army” is the 2006’s book by Abdellah Taïa.
His last book is “Une mélancolie arabe” (2008)
Alekper Aliyev, editor-in-chief of kultura.az, has published, as he put it, his “most scandalous” novel “Artush and Zaur” in Baku. It’s a gay love story between an Azeri and Armenian, a sort of partial deconstruction of Ali and Nino (a heterosexual love story of Azeri Ali and Georgian Nino) having instead Azeri and Armenian male lovers against the backdrop of the emerging Karabakh conflict.
The main characters, Artush and Zaur were born and raised in Baku, went to the same school, shared desks in the classroom. At some point boys became sexually attracted to each other… These were the early years of the Karabakh conflict.
The war separates them. Artush moved to Armenia, Zaur remained in Baku. Already adults they meet again – in Tbilisi. They indulge in memories, fall in love and even get married with the help of a Dutch pastor, a confidant of the wife of Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili.
In his interview, the author argues that Azeris and Armenians share similar kitchen, music and mentality. “Armenians are closer to us than, say, Georgians” due to the influence of the Persian culture.
Alekper says that one of the reasons of writing this novel was to expose the absurdity of all wars in the South Caucasus a la Kusturica. He believes he has the full right to do so as he lost his older brother during the Karabakh war in 1994.
“We are now engaged in information wars with Armenians over the dolma and balaban, even though all our efforts should be aimed at addressing global challenges. Our people must find the wisdom, courage and determination to put an end once and for all of the frozen conflict. We need joint efforts to create all necessary conditions for peaceful coexistence between the two neighbours on this small plot of land, in this God-cursed region called “The South Caucasus”. Frankly, it’s a bit hard to believe that this would happen”.
“During the World War II in Moscow there were concerts of German classical music; works of German composers were heard on the radio; even studies on German philosophers were carried out… Can you imagine for Kara Karaev to be performed in Armenia, or Khachatryan – in Azerbaijan? This is completely impossible! And this has a simple explanation – the more primitive the man, the more aggressive he is.”
Predictably, this book caused a stir and shock in Azeri forums and blogs, with plenty of hateful and homophobic comments. Some accused the author in treason and betrayal of national interests. Others claimed (with irony) that Azerbaijan now has its very own Salman Rushdie and Orhan Pamuk.
“Who f**ked who?” – this is one of the first and apparently principal questions being discussed in forums and blogs (both Azeri and Armenian), each side wishing for ‘his guy’ to f**k ‘the enemy’. I got an impression that this question worried them more than even the fact of the main characters being gay. They are kind of ready to ‘forgive’ and ‘forget’ gay part of the story, as long as ‘their guy’ is ‘the man’ meaning he is ‘doing the enemy’. For them, it’s only black or white. What if they are “versatile” (which allegedly the case in the novel)? This would crush the ‘hopes’ from both sides. Anyways…
There is only one bookstore in Baku which sells this book. Guess, what the name of that bookstore?.. “Ali and Nino”. Some in Azeri forums even suggested buying all the copies of the book and burning it in front of the bookstore. There were even rare voices advocating for the application of the “Shariat law” towards the author.
The topic itself proved to be so controversial that quite a few discussion forums and reports about the book got removed or self-censored from some Azeri forums and web sites, including day.az and kultura.az.
If you discount the nationalities and sexuality of the main characters, the plot may seem pretty routine and unremarkable. However, against the backdrop of nationalism and intolerance in the region, the very fact of the novel that tells about the love story between an Armenian and Azeri, a gay love story between an Armenian and Azeri, makes it a double taboo breaking.
Look forward to reading the book in Russian when it gets published there (as far as I understand, it’s being negotiated with the Russian publishers). Only then I would be able to properly review it. Till then… Hopefully, these displays of hate and intolerance won’t evolve into something more dangerous and physical towards the author. Only the bravest among us are ready to break taboos. Alekper Aliyev is one of them.