Early in Saleem Haddad's compelling debut novel, Guapa, the narrator informs readers that "the government here does not answer to the needs and desires of the people... people must answer to the government." Indeed, for Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arabic country roiling in the midst of the Arab Spring, the expectations of the police state, as well as those of traditional society, feel like a constant interrogation, creating a sense of anomie so pervasive that Rasa cannot stay connected even with those closest to him.

On the morning following Rasa's grandmother's horrified discovery of him and his lover, Taymour, a man of social standing, Rasa reflects on his life: the loss of both his parents at a young age, his inability to fit in at university in the United States in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and his disillusionment with the revolution in his home country, which has shifted from a united populism to Islamism and cynicism. The explorations of sexuality, religion, politics and internationalism are organic and nuanced, making Rasa's reflections believable and engaging, and the setting convincing. As in life, big issues emerge from actual individuals.

The ending feels a bit anticlimactic, in that it intentionally avoids facing certain conflicts entirely head on. And yet, this feels true to life. For Rasa and his associates, much is still uncertain, and much is still in flux. --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa.

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