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4.11  ·  Rating details ·  2,568 ratings  ·  336 reviews
A debut novel that tells the story of Rasa, a young gay man coming of age in the Middle East
Set over the course of twenty-four hours, Guapa follows Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, as he tries to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and social upheaval. Rasa spends his days translating for Western journalists and pining for the nights w
Paperback, 368 pages
Published March 8th 2016 by Other Press
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Average rating 4.11  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,568 ratings  ·  336 reviews

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May 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Guapa is well worth reading. There is an exuberance and ragged energy to the prose I admired. Rasa is a young gay man in an "unnamed Arab country" who is grappling with a complicated relationship, his grandmother, living a closeted life, and his place in the political turmoil his country is facing. There are many powerful observations throughout but at times, the novel was just so didactic, so, "let me teach you," and storytelling fell to the wayside. The plot also just sort of falls apart towar ...more
Sep 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
A raw, emotional novel that follows Rasa, a gay Arab man living in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. The novel begins with Rasa’s grandmother finding him in bed with another man and literally screaming in horror. For the rest of Guapa, we follow Rasa throughout a 24-hour period filled with political and personal unrest: both the uprising of the Arab Spring protests and the uprising of Rasa’s heart when he realizes he may never be with the man he loves. In interspersed flashbacks, we see Rasa’s ...more
Naz (Read Diverse Books)
Review can also be found in my blog:

Guapa is the kind of book I am always open to reading and also the kind of book I root for to succeed. When I hear about a new novel that illuminates the experiences of nonwhite, non-western LGBT people, I want to spread the word. So when I got a chance to read a copy of Guapa before release, I was thrilled!

The narrative follows Rasa, a young gay man who lives in an unnamed Arab country steeped in political turmoil. He returns from Ameri
Apr 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

I was really rooting for Saleem Haddad's novel Guapa to deliver sometbing remarkable, and, for the most part, I wasn't disappointed. Though I'm not gay, or Arab, I had a feeling this story of a gay man in his late twenties dealing with the shame (or Quranic eib) attendant with his sexual urges, in an unnamed (but almost certainly an unstable post-'Arab Spring' Muslim-majority) nation was at times quite gripping. Half the story was told in flashback with our sexually-repressed protagoni
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, favorites
So good that I don't want to share it with anyone. ...more
Mar 14, 2016 marked it as to-read
Shelves: queer-lit
Very curious after reading a thoughtful interview with Haddad over at

"I filled the book with references to various Arabic and English novels, echoing and alluding to seminal works that shaped my own identity. So in my novel you’ll find echoes to writers that I admired, works that I grew up reading and trying to fit myself into: Colm Toibin’s ‘Story of the Night’, James Baldwin’s ‘Giovanni’s Room’, Andre Aciman’s ‘Call Me By Your Name’, Gore Vidal’s ‘City and the Pillar’, and Waguih G
Penny Schmuecker
Feb 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As a Western reader, I feel there is much about life in the Middle East that is still shrouded in mystery. Recently books like Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf and The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg have allowed me a look at the lives of women in these countries but little has been written about the lives of gay men and women living in the Middle East.

Guapa by Saleem Haddad is a thought-provoking novel told from the viewpoint of Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Middle Ea
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Yanira
Guapa was recommended to me by a guest on the Reading Envy Podcast a few years ago (thanks Yanira!) - Rasa is a young gay man in an unnamed Middle Eastern country on the brink of revolution. The story starts with his grandmother catching him in bed with another man and then goes back to tell the story of his parents, his American education (and how he struggled with Muslim and Arab identity in the states), and the underground bar Guapa which is a haven, most of the time.

I agree with some friend
Ali Adenwala
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt
My review of this book which I wrote for a magazine recently:

The Western vision of the queer Arab is undeniably bleak, and most often, it is a sensationalized slideshow of relentless suffering: bodies thrown from high rooftops, mass arrests, a public hanging. In Saleem Haddad’s debut novel Guapa, however, the most violently crucifying moments are not of stonings or communal exile, but rather the stabs of shame after a lover’s touch, and the terror of an eye staring out of a keyhole.

The novel
Jun 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels, middle-east
I saw a quote a few days ago: “The Arab world is as complex and as diverse and messed up and great as anywhere else in the world” – from Hamed Sinno, singer for a well-known Arab band called Mashrou Leila. He said this to CNN as he’s been asked to comment a lot recently given that he’s a fairly “visible” gay Arab born to a Muslim family. The quote was telling as it was a follow up to his observation that “white singers” are never asked to explain their culture, but Arabs are usually asked to spe ...more
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
Guapa is an interesting book, because it is not set in a named country, which I think was a smart move on the author's part, and yet, it is very specific about Muslim culture. The story is told in a 24 hour frame, though fleshed out considerably with flashbacks, which add a lot of roundness to the protagonist. I did feel that all the other characters remained a little hazy, but maybe that was intentional. This book reminded me a lot of Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, which has stayed in my mind a goo ...more
Atiaf Alwazir
Feb 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Few writers can describe stories of marginalization in the Middle East while simultaneously breaking away from stereotypes. Saleem has done that beautifully in his novel.
Sep 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

Haddad gives us a tense twenty four hours with Rasa. And for us to get the Rasa we are seeing now he also gives us Rasa in the past so that we can understand how present Rasa came to be. So we see him grow up, loose his parents, go to America, come back, revolt, fall in love, make good and bad decisions, (view spoiler)
Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

Reading the debut novel *Guapa*, I was reminded of a rose. The narrative, which essentially takes place over the course of a single day, unfolds like that budded flower. Memories peel back like petals, and as we read on, we sink more deeply into the narrative of Rasa, a young queer man in an unnamed Middle Eastern town. After his grandmother peeks through the keyhole of his bedroom and finds him with his lover, he must come to terms with an identity he no longer want
mindful.librarian ☀️
There are books that enter my life and humble me so thoroughly that I don't feel like my voice has a right to review them. So I won't attempt that. Know that this book broke my heart, enlightened me, and like almost no other book I have read lately........put me so solidly in my female/cis/liberal/White/American place and reminded me just how little I have to say about the issues put forth in this story. ...more
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A really authentic read that I couldn't recommend more. Rasa is a deeply dimensional character and the novel explores many subjects from his very unique perspective. I've been looking for a novel with a gay male protagonist that feels genuine; this is not a dramatic flair-up of carefully hand-picked events and chance meetings. This feels real.

Everyone is given a set of semi-random choices in life; everyone makes those choices and finds themselves on a path that was undeniably self-directed. Whe
Smitha Murthy
This has to be one of the best books I have read this year. Deft in its storytelling and rich in its pain, this is a debut novel that demands to be read, loved, and gifted. This is the book to all of us who think ‘diversity’ is merely a tag on our profile. To all of us who think we ‘know’ the human condition. To all of us who think that love is a shape to be constrained in our thoughts, and not our heart.

I was lost in its world. I think I emerged with a daze. And a fierce desire to reimagine th
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
This one just wasn’t for me. I found the writing quite annoying, overly didactic, and whiny. Such an important story, but not told in a way that worked for me at all. Bailed just shy of page 40.
Daniel Pereira
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, e-book, lgbt
I don't write reviews lately. When I finish a book, life is so fast-paced that I don't find the time to think deeply about it and try to express my feelings toward it. But this one was different.

After reading a bunch of Stephen King books in a row, I saw this one on a Buzzfeed Newsletters about books to read in 2016. I picked it up and started reading it.

And I was really touched by it. As a person who knows almost nothing about the middle eastern crisis and the Arabic world in general, this boo
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Guapa is a great book. Above all else it is a story of marginalisation, of how in all its forms marginalisation is one shared malaise. And yet the author doesn't shy away from unpicking how those suffering one or more kinds of oppression, instead of forging common bonds, all too often themselves play a part in the marginalisation of others. This is one of several tragic layers in a story often told with bitter wit, about a man, Rassa, and the society in which he lives, both of whom seem on the b ...more
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: debut-novels
I loved this book and would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in reading about cultural differences. And anyone who has loved. I particularly enjoyed this reading as a Westerner; it reminded me that other parts of the world are vastly different from my normal, everyday life and experiences.
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was smitten with GUAPA, a queer Arab Spring novel. Haddad layered the personal and the political so much that it became impossible to disentangle Rasa's life from the nation's. As Rasa navigates his queerness, Arabness, and revolutionary politics in both the U.S. and his home country—always stuck between one eib (shame) and another—the nation, too, finds itself at war between the eibs of authoritarianism and Islamism. Haddad's character is always trying to resolve the binaries he's caught up i ...more
Mar 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a really impressive novel. I can't think of the last book that I've read that's so full of turmoil--romantic, interpersonal, familial, and political. Rasa's struggle, which seems to grow in magnitude as the reader learns more about him, is not finished by the end of this book, but the novel has gotten across the complexity and the sheer thorniness of the many challenges that he faces. Rasa is a man who has had it with the pretense that society requires of us--whether around being an Arab ...more
Nick Seeley
Apr 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
An extraordinary coming-of-age novel.

"Guapa" encompasses a day in the life of Rasa, a young gay man in an unnamed Middle Eastern country during the turbulence of the Arab Spring. His path winds from his family's upper-middle-class home, where his family is on the verge of discovering his secret relationship with another young man, to the city's poverty-stricken suburbs, where the embers of revolution are catching fire, to the police stations where regime thugs brutalize and intimidate dissident
Mar 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure where to start with this book, because it's a book that stays with you for a long time. It's a book about politics, about love, and that's so hard to do in one novel. Haddad is a master storyteller. My heart broke in every page into million pieces. I wanted a happy ending (whatever that means). I rooted for Rasa. I wanted happiness for him. But, I think in the end, he got something better.

I cannot wait to read another book by this author. This is an important book. This is not a po
George K. Ilsley
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gay, fiction
It's stressful to read this book because it reminds one of personal horrors — the all consuming fear that the world will collapse if one's darkest secret becomes known. Much of the world, for one reason or another, lives with this stress buried in their bodies and souls. All of this to say that Guapa can be difficult to read because of the jagged experience of sharp edges buried in tender recesses. ...more
Oct 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtq, fiction
Wonderful. A slightly messy, overly sentimental and sometimes pedantic first novel, that is also passionate and moving.

What the Western gay novel used to be before we lossed something in both wide ranging acceptance and quite a bit of assimilation.
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I had high hopes for this book, and it didn't disappoint. Really, really good. ...more
Cameron Sant
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Cameron's lightning if-I-write-a-full-review-my-phone-will-delete-it-anyway haiku review:

Not just a closet
novel. Intersectional,
lovely, important.
Mar 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Rasa's life has changed dramatically overnight. Last night, his grandmother caught him in bed with his lover, Taymour. Tonight, Taymour is getting married to a woman. And one of his best friends, Maj, is missing, likely arrested sometime during the night. None of these are things he can be open about. And even if he could, his grandmother isn't speaking to him, and she's the only family he has. Beyond his personal struggles, the political situation in his country is getting worse. As a translato ...more
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Saleem Haddad is a writer and aid worker. He was born in Kuwait City to an Iraqi-German mother and a Palestinian-Lebanese father, and has lived in Jordan, Cyprus, Canada and the U.K. He has worked with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and other international organisations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, and Egypt. In addition to writing, he currently advises international ...more

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“Digging through my roots to understand the way my branches grew.” 3 likes
“In America the gay world touched my life at the margins, though references and images and occasional conversations with men and women who celebrated their homosexuality with pride. As far as I could see there was nothing to be proud about. There was only pain, humiliation and shame. If I were to join this group, I would have to act proud and hide my feelings of rejection and loneliness. If I were to show these men and women that I was terrified for my future, I would be regarded as misguided or a victim of Islam or Arabness. But if there was one thing I wsa certain of it was that there was nothing misguided about my feelings, and I did not feel that Islam or my Arabness was to blame. If I were to join this group, I would simply go from the repressiveness of secrecy to the repressiveness of pride. I didn't despise my shame. I had no reason to do so. My shame illuminated my intense attachment to the world, my desire to be connected with others.” 3 likes
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