“I’m not influenced by literature. I find everything I need in the reality of life, in my place within that reality.”
At twelve years old in Salé, Morocco, Abdellah Taïa touched a high-voltage generator and lay dead for an hour before surprising everyone and breathing again. He defied death and would have to keep doing it: as a lone effeminate youth in his neighborhood, he was a target of sexual violence every day. On one occasion Taïa cites as a turning point, grown men on the street yelled in the night to wake him, threatening rape, and though he lay sandwiched between his mother and seven siblings in a shared bed, no one sheltered him. He is an artist intimate with vulnerability and he is unafraid. He is also a political activist who, in 2006, became the first renowned Arab artist to come out publicly in Morocco, a country where homosexuality continues to be illegal.
Born in 1973, Taïa has lived in Paris since 1998 and writes books and films in French. Following his first two novels, Salvation Army and An Arab Melancholia, the forthcoming Infidels is his third to be translated into English. Echoing Taïa’s own exile, these books take place between Morocco and Europe, where on the streets and in bedrooms his stories collide in tenderness and violent urgency.
Built in a series of rhythmic soliloquies, Infidels is a timely novel about Islamic fundamentalism, intimacy, betrayal, and panic. “I change realities,” the protagonist Jallal says, “really and truly enter fiction, cross the border, take on other colors.” Taïa’s characters are fugitives constantly in motion: they get close, they love; they manipulate, they spit at each other’s feet. Their days and their transgressions are beautiful, but in a merciless world they can also be terrifying.
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