Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Guapa by Saleem Haddad (2016)

I'm thinking about this book and my frustrating experience reading it, and it's difficult for me to shape a review for it. I guess I'll just plunge forward.

Saleem Haddad is very skilled in painting a scene's setting. My brain had no trouble filling in the details as Haddad provided everything necessary while never getting boring in his descriptions. In slums, checkpoints, fancy hotels, apartments, dorm rooms, campuses, diners, bars...I never once had trouble, and I have extreme respect for this skill.

Also, the sensual scenes between Rasa and Taymour were just lovely, leaving me wanting more. I mean seriously, but enough said there.

So what we have in Guapa is a story of injustices, power struggles between people, intolerance, governmental abuses, family tragedy, and the confusion of growing up different.

A very worthy endeavor.

We're served a journey in Rasa's mind, a journey in which he philosophizes and rages (though also illuminates with some very nice anecdotes throughout). At times, at least for me, I need to retrace steps to remember where the novel was in its present-time, which wasn't a problem, but it's also not ideal in the flow of reading to be right at a crucial point of action or dialogue but first get moved into another flashback. Lots of good material in the flashbacks but the execution felt messy and even sometimes muddled.

By the end I was quite weary of an endless parade of one-dimensional characters who served as examples of the types of attitudes Rasa encounters in his living. One horrible person after another, often delivering a self-righteous speech with very little context to trigger it. Many unresolved threads (Like I said, the book was frustrating for me) and a melodramatic, unsatisfying ending.

Saleem Haddad is an incredibly strong writer, and I'm hoping his follow-up is more successful than Guapa.

With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this book.

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