Salvation Army is a coming of age memoir, no doubt, but one made exotic not only for its settings—like Marrakesh, Geneva and Morocco—but by the fact that Abdellah Taïa’s first stirrings of love, his earliest pangs of sexual awakenings were for his attractive older brother, Abdelkébir.
This should be an uncomfortable situation with a young boy having incestuous feelings like these, but as the first sentence of the introduction by Edmund White says: “This is a novel about love in all its forms.”
I couldn’t agree more. Abdellah’s undefined worship/lust for his older brother was comfortably unrequited and most likely unnoticed. However that love, the narrator’s earliest most secret love, is just one of the love stories depicted in Salvation Army – among them, love of family, culture, country and life itself.
Taïa has defied Moroccan society's don't-ask, don't-tell attitude toward homosexuality — and prison sentences that are still on the books in the North African kingdom.
In Salvation Army, Taïa talks about his blooming sexuality, describing teenage trysts in the back of dark movie theaters and flings with European tourists looking for more than sun on their Moroccan holidays (which reminded me of a certain classic porn movie filmed there). And after being awarded a scholarship to study in Switzerland, his older Swiss lover who was supposed to pick him up at the Geneva airport never shows up. The penniless and now homeless Taïa is directed by another love-lorn soul to the Salvation Army, where he lives among illegal immigrants from throughout the developing world.
I absolutely fell in love with this book—with what it depicted and what it did not—and with Abdellah Taïa, Morocco’s first openly gay author to publish a memoir so real and naked that they both will always dominate that warmest, most exotic corner of my heart. ~~
Abdellah Taïa lives in Paris and has appeared in the Rémi Lang's 2004 film "Tarik el Hob" -- released in English as "The Road to Love". (below)