Yas­meen Had­dad Loves Joanasi Maqait­tik

Carolyn Marie Souaid Baraka Books (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $24.95 (300pp) 978-1-77186-124-3

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - CON­STANCE AU­GUSTA A. ZABER

Yas­meen raises un­com­fort­able re­minders of how close to home racism lives.

Yas­meen Had­dad Loves Joanasi Maqait­tik fol­lows a well-in­ten­tioned teacher who ar­rives in an iso­lated Inuit com­mu­nity, de­ter­mined to make a dif­fer­ence in her stu­dents’ lives. In genre pat­tern, Yas­meen falls in love with both the com­mu­nity and a man who rep­re­sents its for­eign way of life. Carolyn Marie Souaid sets up her novel with up­ended ex­pec­ta­tions and a per­va­sive, bod­ily sense of un­ease.

Newly ar­rived, Yas­meen is de­ter­mined not to be just an­other racist white teacher who shows up to “civ­i­lize” the lo­cal Inu­its. When she meets Joanasi Maqait­tik, a lo­cal DJ, the two be­gin a re­la­tion­ship whose pas­sion­ate love and even­tual vi­o­lence em­body Yas­meen’s evolv­ing re­la­tion­ship with her new sur­round­ings.

It’s easy to like Yas­meen, but such fond­ness be­comes un­com­fort­able as the ex­tent of her in­ter­nal­ized racism be­comes clear. Yas­meen thinks of her­self as be­yond racism, but her en­tire view of the Inuit com­mu­nity seems based on no­tions of the “noble sav­ages” who are more in touch with nat­u­ral ways of life. Even her re­la­tion­ship with Joanasi is tainted by the un­spo­ken ques­tion “is she dat­ing a man, or is she dat­ing a pro­jected archetype?”

Souaid’s sen­tences are straight­for­ward and re­mark­ably clear in their de­pic­tions. Her lan­guage nat­u­rally pairs with the phys­i­cal­ity of the story, al­low­ing her to ex­plore Yas­meen’s fo­cus on an imag­ined pri­mal way of life via a du­al­ity—the ways in which ad­dic­tion and sex­u­al­ity im­pact hu­man bod­ies.

In­deed, du­al­i­ties and con­trasts are the driv­ing force of the novel. Un­set­tling re­al­ism is en­hanced by Souaid’s un­der­stand­ing of the com­pli­ca­tions of race and com­plic­ity. What does it mean for Yas­meen, the daugh­ter of Syr­ian Chris­tian im­mi­grants, who iden­ti­fies her­self as white, to want to avoid be­ing a racist, even as her ac­tions re­duce and re­move the agency of those around her? Souaid has cre­ated a pro­tag­o­nist who can’t sim­ply be writ­ten off as a gross car­i­ca­ture of The Racist; Yas­meen raises un­com­fort­able re­minders of how close to home racism lives.

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