God in Pink by Hasan Namir
Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015. 160 pp; $15.95
Reviewed by Andrew Wilmot
At age twenty, Ramy, a university student living in Baghdad in 2003, has the weight of the world already on his shoulders. With both parents dead—his mother during childbirth and his father years later for attempting to practise religious freedom—Ramy lives under the strict watchful eyes of his brother Mohammed, a professor of English at Baghdad University, and Mohammed’s wife Noor, who wishes nothing more than for Ramy to find a wife and start a family. Trouble is, Ramy is gay, and in Muslim culture, being gay, being a lotee, is haram—forbidden.
To this end, Ramy seeks two things: forgiveness, as the novel’s first words proclaim, written to whom it’s not immediately clear; and guidance, and if not guidance then condemnation for his orientation from a local sheikh, eventually revealed as the recipient of Ramy’s pleas. For the sheikh, though, neither guidance nor condemnation is a clear solution. Indeed, he isn’t sure at first if he should even respond to Ramy’s letters, or if in doing so he would be in violation of his faith. Because for a true believer in the Qur’an, the only solution to Ramy’s situation is to renounce one’s ways, even if it means a renouncement of the self.
However, when Sheikh Ammar is visited one night by a winged creature proclaiming to be the angel Gabriel, who instructs him to help Ramy, he finds that his worldview quickly begins to unravel. His thoughts are consumed by the colour werdy—pink—as Gabriel and later Abaddon, the angel and devil in his ear respectively, battle for control of the sheikh’s beliefs, leading to a series of self-discoveries that call into question his own past and suppressed desires.
Author Namir does not shroud this novel’s questions in ambiguity, openly asking: Would Ramy’s brother and sister-in-law accept him were they to know the truth? Do they know already and are refusing to admit it, because, as Noor states, “Marriage will protect you”? Would the sheikh, or any member of their faith, extend a hand to help him, or would they rush to condemn him as a sinner deserving of punishment? It is made evident early on that these are not simple concerns—within the novel’s opening pages, Ramy witnesses the targeted killing of one friend whose family and community were unaccepting of his orientation, and the suicide of another—his lover Ali, with whom Ramy was supposed to run away in search of a better, safer life outside of Iraq.
In alternating between the two points of view—Ramy’s and Sheikh Ammar’s—Namir has created a story of intersecting fates, a figure eight of sorts, as events push Ramy toward one end of the spectrum and the sheikh toward the other. Their lives crisscross in the middle with a debate over the nature of the Qur’an and whether or not it is to be cited absolutely as God’s requirements for a good and devout existence, with the sheikh rationalizing the system at all costs, even as his own internal struggle seeks to dismantle it. This is a thoughtful, elegantly crafted book that shows love for its characters, regardless of where they fall with respect to Ramy’s predicament, and to illustrate the many degrees of grey inherent to the alignment of one’s faith, self, and desire. »
from subTerrain #73