Jesse Ruddock at Music and Literature:
Abdellah Taïa’s novels are impatient for justice in the streets and homes of Morocco and beyond. Taïa is an iconic gay-rights activist in the Arab world, as well as in France, the country to which he fled for his life in his youth. Since arriving in France, he has published seven novels, directed a film adaptation of his third novel, Salvation Army, and edited the collection of essays, Letters to a Young Moroccan. In 2006, Taïa became the first eminent, openly gay Arab writer ever; in 2013, with Salvation Army, he gave the Arab world its first gay protagonist on the big screen. But Taïa remains little known in the US. That’s despite three of his novels being translated and published in English and a light rain of press in recent years, including two of his own op-eds and an artist profile appearing in the New York Times.
The Times profile headline ran as a triptych: “Muslim, Gay, and Making No Apologies.” Three years earlier, in Out Magazine, Taïa wrote an opinion piece under a nearly identical banner: “Muslim, Gay, and Free.” This list of identities is ponderous but not useless, and adding to it that Taïa is no pacifist, I fear that we avoid engaging with his work because it directly confronts prevailing beliefs about the world that many, if not a majority of, Americans hold close.
There’s no American dream here, not to embrace or shake off. There’s no such privilege. There are other things. Taïa’s portrayal of his homeland is “a Morocco that is not perfect. A Morocco tense and feverish. A surging Morocco. Possessed.”