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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

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Translated by Emma Ramadan

An exquisite novel of North Africans in Paris by "one of the most original and necessary voices in world literature."

Paris, Summer 2010.

Zahira is 40 years old, Moroccan, a prostitute, traumatized by her father's suicide decades prior, and in love with a man who no longer loves her.

Zannouba, Zahira's friend and protege, formerly known as Aziz, prepares for gender confirmation surgery and reflects on the reoccuring trauma of loss, including the loss of her pre-transition male persona.

Mojtaba is a gay Iranian revolutionary who, having fled to Paris, seeks refuge with Zahira for the month of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, Allal, Zahira's first love back in Morocco, travels to Paris to find Zahira.

Through swirling, perpendicular narratives, A Country for Dying follows the inner lives of emigrants as they contend with the space between their dreams and their realities, a schism of a postcolonial world where, as Abdellah Taïa writes, "So many people find themselves in the same situation. It is our destiny: To pay with our bodies for other people's future."
 

Abdellah Taia
Abdullah Taia
Abdelah Taia
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A Country for Dying is a knife of a novel—short, sharp, and jagged. Abdellah Taïa ruthlessly uses that knife to cut away sentimental notions of love, romance, family, and nation. He exposes how colonization has shaped sexual desire, expression, and exploitation, and leaves us with a memorable, powerful work.”

“Abdellah Taïa dramatizes the reality of Zahira and Zannouba, Moroccan prostitutes in Paris, at sea in the stormy straits between the sexes and nationalities, estranged from their families but absorbed by their loves and fantasies; this is a cri de coeur and a cri de corps, heart and body crying in the lonely city.”

“Abdellah Taïa is one of the most original and necessary voices in world literature. ... With each novel Taïa grows as an artist and expands our knowledge of what it means to be an outsider inside the Muslim world.”

“Immigrants in Paris seek political, economic, and sexual refuge in Taïa's heart-wrenching tale of postcolonial identity crisis. Zahira, a 45-year-old prostitute, is haunted by memories of her father's suicide in Morocco when she was a child, and of Allal, a possessive Moroccan who loved her decades earlier. In Paris, Zahira looks out for an Algerian protégé, Zannouba, on the eve of Zannouba's sex reassignment surgery, and Mojtaba, a gay Iranian dissident, whose innocence awakens Zahira's maternal instincts. For Zahira and others, solace eludes them in the form of lost or unrequited love, a theme Taïa distills in a nested story of Zahira's vanished aunt, Zineb. Enlisted by the French to service soldiers in 1950s Indochina, Zineb is left adrift between the family she's left behind and a love she can only sell. Taïa's blunt style is shot through with an immediacy accenting the high stakes for those chased across borders and running from their own pasts ("You thought you had fled our world," says Allal). But Zahira is not free, and Allal has not forgotten her; he is coming now to Paris, planning to kill her. In the churning gears of this compact, deeply moving novel, crises of identity prove more solvable than those of the heart.”

“The Moroccan writer Abdellah Taïa’s novel A Country for Dying (translated from the French by Emma Ramadan) depicts a Paris distinct from the stuff of Anglophone fantasies. The story follows three characters: Zahira, a forty-year-old Moroccan sex worker in love with a man who does not return her feelings; Zahira’s friend Zannouba, who undergoes gender confirmation surgery and reflects on questions of trauma and identity; and Mojtaba, a gay Iranian revolutionary who by chance stays with Zahira for the month of Ramadan. Taïa, who came out as gay in Morocco—where homosexuality is illegal—in 2006, poignantly portrays the lives of immigrants in a city and country that is frequently hostile to them, and openly questions France’s perception of itself and its immigration policies.”

“Despite its brief length, Abdellah Taïa’s novel covers a lot of territory, both temporally and thematically. This is a work that concerns itself with intimacy, with desire, and with identity—and which finds multiple permutations of each to discuss. Throw in a plot that grapples with colonialism and generational trauma and you have a complex, thoughtful novel.”

“In his new novel, A Country for Dying, Abdellah Taïa explores the lives of migrants in Paris, offering an unusual and uncomfortably real perspective on what it is to exist between places. Cut off from their own countries yet marginalised by their new home, his characters live fragmented lives that often play out at night-time or in dark, shadowy spaces. Themes such as gender, sexuality, religion and identity are explored in some detail as well, making this brief work of fiction – published by Seven Stories Press in a seamless translation by Emma Ramadan – something deeply profound and complex.”

“I think anyone who likes Ocean Vuong’s work would also love reading this book. It’s about a prostitute and her son, a young gay Muslim who becomes a jihadi. There are multiple characters in this perpendicular narrative, such as a good friend of the prostitute who is going through a gender transition, and it’s a fascinating window into the lives of impoverished North Africans in Paris, dealing with the politics of their own identity and their sexual identity. The prostitute is in love with a man who’s no longer in love with her, and everything is kind of complicated and twisted. I like the fact that the novel bounces around narratively; it’s not a classic three-act structure, it’s more perpendicular and really gets inside the lives of these characters. Whenever I go to Paris, I’d never normally meet people like the characters in A Country for Dying. I love how books give me a window into other people’s lives, especially those people whose paths I would not normally cross. If you look at my films, the vast majority of them are based on books. I find that if you write an original script, no matter how good it is, it just somehow doesn’t quite scratch beneath the surface enough in the way that a book does.”

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In 1973, ABDELLAH TAÏA was born in the public library of Rabat in Morocco, where his father was the janitor and where his family lived until he was two years old. Acclaimed as both a novelist and filmmaker, he writes in French and has published eight books now widely translated, including Le jour de roi, which was awarded the prestigious French Prix de Flore in 2010. An adaptation of his novel L'Armée du salut was his first feature film, released in 2014, screened at major festivals around the world, and hailed by the New York Times as giving "the Arab world its first on-screen gay protagonist." Abdellah Taïa made history in 2006 by coming out in his country, where homosexuality is illegal. His commitment to the defense of homosexuals in Muslim countries has made him one of the most prominent Arab writers of his generation—both "a literary transgressor and cultural paragon," according to Interview magazine. Taia has lived in Paris since 1998.