An autobiographical coming-of-age novel by the the “only gay man” in Morocco.
An autobiographical novel by turn naïve and cunning, funny and moving, this most recent work by Moroccan expatriate Abdellah Taïa is a major addition to the new French literature emerging from the North African Arabic diaspora. Salvation Army is a coming-of-age novel that tells the story of Taïa's life with complete disclosure—from a childhood bound by family order and latent (homo)sexual tensions in the poor city of Salé, through an adolescence in Tangier charged by the young writer's attraction to his eldest brother, to a disappointing arrival in the Western world to study in Geneva in adulthood. In so doing, Salvation Army manages to burn through the author's first-person singularity to embody the complex mélange of fear and desire projected by Arabs on Western culture. Recently hailed by his native country's press as “the first Moroccan to have the courage to publicly assert his difference,” Taïa, through his calmly transgressive work, has “outed” himself as “the only gay man” in a country whose theocratic law still declares homosexuality a crime. The persistence of prejudices on all sides of the Mediterranean and Atlantic makes the translation of Taïa's work both a literary and political event. The arrival of Salvation Army (published in French in 2006) in English will be welcomed by an American audience already familiar with a growing cadre of talented Arab writers working in French (including Muhammad Dib, Assia Djebar, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Abdelkebir Khatibi, and Katib Yasin).
Abdellah Taïa (born in 1973) is the author of six novels, including Salvation Army and An Arab Melancholia, both published by Semiotext(e), and Infidels. His novel Le jour du roi, about the death of Morocco's King Hassan II, won the 2010 Prix de Flore. He also directed and wrote the screenplay for the 2013 film adaptation of Salvation Army.
Abdellah Taïa is a brilliant young Moroccan who writes in French. In this novel, appropriately, he talks about his first contacts with Europeans. We learn about the traditional Moroccan family, about Swiss sex tourists, about the Salvation Army in Geneva, about the first burgeoning of desire in a young Arab, about family love and carnal love. Taïa has a captivating way of taking us into his confidence and telling us essential truths.
Here in the United States, it's easy to become jaded about the coming out narrative. It can feel like a story we've read one time too many, one that has somehow become commodified, fraught with predictability. But every once in a while a novel comes along that shatters our jaded state and renews our faith in the queer coming of age genre. Abdellah Taïa's Salvation Army is one such book.
In a simple and straightforward language, the author leads the reader through a journey of uncertainty and self-discovery, beyond the nuanced resonance of words and emotions. Writing, which he discovers at an early age, involves for him a courageous and unprecedented act of exposing his country's taboos and prohibitions.
Just when you thought you'd read every coming out story imaginable, a book as fresh and original as this one enlivens the genre.
Frontiers in LA
The novel is richly layered yet impressively lean, and as easily enjoyed by the pool as at a university library.
Bay Area Reporter
This straightforward story about self-discovery is a reminder that coming-of-age tales still need to be told.