Abdellah Taïa is one of the most interesting Moroccan writers. In 2006, he became the first openly gay Moroccan author and is to this day the only one. Him being opened with his sexuality is probably helped by the fact that he is based in Paris since 1998. Homosexuality is still illegal in Morocco.
The book of his that I’ve picked is The King’s Day, a story about the complicated friendship between two teenage boys. Omar is poor and taking care of his father, who has fallen into depression and alcoholism after Omar’s mother left him. Khalid is rich and has supportive, successful parents. Everything seems to be separating the two boys, but there exists between them deep love and caring.
That is, until Khalid is named best pupil in Morocco. As a reward, he will get to kiss the hand of king Hassan II. But he keeps this secret from his friend and when Omar finds out he sees it as a great betrayal. After that, nothing will ever be the same.
The style of writing in The King’s Day is simplistic but somewhat poetic, although probably not as much as in the original French. I’ve said this many times: the French language has an inherent poésie which is untranslatable.
The themes which are dealt with are not only that of class and frienship, but also of sexuality, gender, race and, in a lesser degree, gender identity. Despair and melancholy I would say are the primary feelings in this story.
The King’s Day is a beautiful and thought-provoking book and I get why it won the precious literary award Prix de Flore. But unfortunately, it has yet to be translated to English.
I often found myself thinking while reading that the story would be unusually adaptable to the big screen and as it turns out Abdellah Taïa is also a filmmaker. In 2013, he directed the movie Salvation Army, based on his book by the same name. It was the first movie in the Arab world with a gay protagonist.
Both Salvation Army and another novel of his, An Arab Melancholia, are available in English and published by Semiotexte.