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Abdellah Taia. An Arab Melancholia.

Abdellah Taia. An Arab Melancholia. Trans. Frank Stock. Semiotext(e), 2012. 118 pp. Paper: $14.95.

An Arab Melancholia is the second novel by Abdellah Taia to be translated and published by Semiotext(e). Like Salvation Army, it is a semi-autobiographical book that tells the story of gay man born near Rabat, Morocco, who later emigrates to Europe. From an early age, the protagonist is sure of his sexual identity, but lack of doubt does not prevent him from suffering for it at the hands of his peers. Later, when his perceived femininity is less of a source of chagrin, it's his lovers themselves that supply the dolor. From the squalor and familial warmth of Morocco, he travels to a cold, disappointing Paris, and then to Cairo, city of the great romantic Egyptian movie stars that have shaped his conception of love and driven his desire to write and to act. More than a travelogue or a coming-of-age tale, this is a story of love and emotion. Early in the book, when a neighborhood boy threatens to rape him, the protagonist's attitudes redefine the situation: "He thought I was afraid. Everything he suggested sounded pretty good to me:' Naive perhaps, but also subversive and unexpected, it's his emotions and desires that shape our perception of the plot. Later relationships reveal him as unblushingly obsessive and melodramatic, like his Cairo heroines. A comment on an infatuation divulges the novel's two poles: "I wasn't dreaming. I was laboring under love's dictatorship" Dreaming--the aspirations of the ego--and love--the desperation for affirmation--are the book's driving forces. In French, Taia's literary style is not particularly well-developed, and Stock's translation renders it in its, at times, flat and unwieldy state. Unfortunate as that may be, Taia's story is nonetheless a fascinating and consequential one.
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Author:DeMarco, Amanda
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2012
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