One Last Drink at Guapa intertwines two very sensitive themes or ideas: homosexuality and the Arab identity. In a nutshell, the novel is about a man named Rasa, living in an unnamed, presumably a Middle Eastern or a predominantly Islamic nation, who gets caught by his grandmother in bed with his lover, Taymour. Taking place within the short span of just 24 hours, the novel looks at Rasa’s present dilemma of being caught and how to continue the relationship with Taymour, takes the reader through flashbacks into Rasa’s past including his time as a student in America; and brings us back to the present which seems as fraught with complications as the past.
The readers view the events in the story through Rasa’s eyes. We see his predicament as a young teen trying to search for the right word in either Arabic or English to encapsulate his homosexual identity. We see later in America how him being bilingual further alienates. We see how as an adult, he navigates the mix of his grandmother’s hegemonic rules along with the new ideas his education gives him. We see how Rasa’s own individuality is overshadowed by the Muslim stereotype and how he traverses that mix as well being both Arab and gay in both America as well as his home country. We see him being forced to confront this new sense of the Other which before was simply the normal way of life for him.
Along with Rasa’s own individual turmoil, we see the political upheavals raging within his own country. This adds another layer to the novel where challenging sexual norms are meshed with challenging oppressive political regimes as well.
Apart from Rasa, other interesting characters that feature in the novel are his lover, Taymour, who eventually succumbs to the pressures of society and settles down for a heterosexual marriage; and his fiercely principled grandmother who controlled a lot of how Rasa’s family functioned. A close friend of Rasa is Maj, who is an activist by day and a colourful cross dresser by night and performs at a bar named, Guapa, where Rasa and his gang spend most of their nights reveling away. There are plethora of other characters you meet along the way as well.
The ending is most interesting as it ends not only on an ambiguous note but also on a hopeful, poignant note where the characters seem to accept that living their life and living in their country will be rife with problems and stress but they are going to soldier on and stay true to themselves and their beliefs. While it is difficult to often stand by your own, it is heartening to see a book ending on such a positive note where the characters are not simply scrambling away to America or other such dream country to end their woes.
The novel therefore gives the readers a unique glimpse into Arab gay culture: something hitherto not as well known in popular literature thanks to the stereotypical Muslim equals terrorist image that colours popular imagination.
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