Translated by Frank Stock
An “autobiographical novel” in the American avant-feminist tradition of Chris Kraus (I Love Dick), Eileen Myles (Cool for You), and Michelle Tea (The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America), 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 narrates 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 his disappointing “arrival” in the Western world to study in Geneva in adulthood — and in so doing 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, and move towards restituting their alterity.
Recently hailed by his native country’s press as “the first Moroccan to have the courage to publicly assert his difference,” Taïa’s calmly transgressive work has “outed” him as “the only gay man” in a country whose theocratic law still codes homosexuality a crime. The persistence of prejudices on all sides of the Mediterranean/Atlantic marks the translations of Taïa’s work (which has now appeared in Spanish and Dutch editions) as both literary and political events. Due to a lingering, remarkable dearth of Arabic-language cultural and literary writing translated into English, the arrival of Salvation Army in English will be received by an American audience already familiar with a growing cadre of talented Arab writers working in French (that includes Muhammad Dib, Assia Djebar, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Abdelkebir Khatibi, and Kãtib Yãsin) — an American audience that has also been subject to increasing confusion over the understanding of Arab identity by the distressingly prominent rhetoric of war.