‘I put everything into this novel and it was a relief’: Saleem Haddad

By Sian Cain


Beneath all the blood and the smoke in Saleem Haddad’s debut novel Guapa lies an overwhelming shame. But it’s not quite shame as we understand it in English: the little Arabic word eib (عيب), which appears frequently in the book, encapsulates a cultural concept so particular that it takes a 10-minute discussion to explain.

Haddad is game, though: “Eib in Arab societies is like a social code,” he says. “It binds communities and creates boundaries and creates trust. But at the same time, it can be very constricting.” It is not like the widely used haram, a religious term for something forbidden in Islam. “Islamic law says this is forbidden, while this is allowed. Shame, however, is malleable. It is open to subversion. I wanted to explore how people could play with that.”

Guapa, described in the Guardian as “immensely readable … fluent, passionate and emotionally honest”, follows Rasa, a young gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, over a single day in the recent aftermath of a failed political uprising. Read more

Source: The Guardian