This nuanced portrait of Gertrude Stein, presented through the eyes of a fictional male lover from Morocco known only as Muhammad, comes from noted Moroccan journalist and poet Najmi (A Little Life). The narrator, a poet and journalist named Abu Hasan, befriends the elderly Muhammad, who claims that during his younger days, he met Stein while she was in Tangier and was afterward invited to live at her celebrated Parisian salon. Knowing that he is dying, Muhammad persuades Hasan to write his memoirs. In turn, Hasan enlists the research aid of an American diplomat, Lydia Altman, who becomes his lover. Meanwhile, Muhammad tells of how, as a habitué of Stein s salon, he befriended famous artists and poets like Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire. He also fell in love with Stein, despite her masculine and arrogant personality, creating domestic discord with her longtime companion and lover, Alice B. Toklas. While Stein affectionately addressed Muhammad as Mo, she was never a monogamous lover and continued her sexual liaisons with Toklas. In the present day, Hasan, who is married, and Lydia have their own relationship problems while he wrestles with writing Muhammad s life story. But Najmi makes the difficult, idiosyncratic Gertrude Stein as much the focus of his novel as Muhammad, Hasan, and Lydia, presenting the famed writer in a refreshingly new light. --Publishers Weekly 11/13
"This is a beautifully written novel by a major writer of Morocco, masterfully translated from Arabic by Roger Allen, retired professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. A work of imagination as a novel, it is, nevertheless, based on historical facts relating to the writers Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) and Alice Toklas (1877-1967) who lived together in Paris as a married couple from 1907 to 1946...Hassan Najmi must have had access to an abundance of actual letters, diaries, and memoirs of relevant persons, as well as a plethora of books about Stein s salon and its luminaries not to mention her writings and Toklas s to make his novel a realistic and interesting representation of that renowned episode of Western culture...
In Gertrude s biography, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (Paris: Gallimard, 1934), there is mention of a certain Mohammed (p. 173) as a guide in Tangier for ten days who became a pleasant companion to Gertrude and Alice in their tour there. It is fascinating how Hassan Najmi has used this and other materials to construct a captivating novel with historical characters, including famous artists and writers, portrayed realistic scenes of Stein s salons, their conversations, and life in Paris and Tangier." --Middle East Media and book review
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About the Author
Hassan Najmi , Moroccan poet, novelist, journalist, and educator, is a major figure in the cultural life of his country.
Roger Allen is a renowned translator of modern Arabic fiction.