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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

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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.