“My name is Fatima Daas. The name of a girl from Clichy who crosses the tracks to get to school.”
An autobiographical first novel, The Last One tells the story of Fatima and her family. The confusing polarities between different worlds and cultures that are portrayed sparked an intense Media debate in France. Although based on true events and experiences, Fatima Daas changed certain aspects in order to be free to write what she wanted, and convey her feelings about specific events.
Fatima was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, an affluent bourgeois suburb west of Paris. Her parents, originally from Algeria, moved on to settle in Clichy-sous-Bois when she was five years old, offering a total contrast since Clichy is one of the most economically disadvantaged suburbs on the outskirts of Paris. The people living there are from all over the world. The place is rich with the warm bonds of friendship and a genuine sense of community togetherness.
The Outsider Becomes a Game Changer
Daas began writing at the age of thirteen as a way to express herself: fiction at first, influenced by her environment, and then a diary. In her late teens, she participated in writing workshops led by Tanguy Viel. “Growing up in a country where you are not represented on TV or in any way in the dominant culture was tricky, but today stories are beginning to come out,” she said during the interview at the recent launch arranged by the clever attaché for books and ideas at the IFRU here in London.
The Last One is unusual in that it is like a long prose poem reminiscent of traditional Kabyle oral epic poetry and the urban lyricism of rappers like Eminem, Sniper and PNL. The language is powerful, visual and visceral. The words “My name is Fatima Daas” open each section like a mantra.
The author cites Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux and Virginie Despentes as her literary influences. She has become a spokesperson for a generation of gay women from the banlieues who are also practicing Muslims and tradition-breaking feminists: a heavy responsibility to bear, as every word she speaks and writes is weighed up and interpreted.
Gay, Gifted and Muslim
In the novel, Fatima’s sense of isolation and discomfort as she challenges male domination and Muslim ethical values and norms is marked by a rebellious unwillingness to compromise. “Love was taboo in our home. So were shows of affection, and sexuality.” She feels like an outsider since she has a strong faith but is shamed for being a gay woman.
Fatima is told that “Allah is forgiving” and yet she “must not turn what’s forbidden into what’s allowed”. As a practicing Muslim, she is expected to renounce the gay part of herself, but she refuses to be what people expect her to be, and chooses instead to speak out in her novel.
“My name is Fatima Daas”
Pressures from religion, and pressures from society, are all directed at women. At home Fatima speaks Algerian Arabic, while at school, she speaks French. At home Fatima sees her father beating her sisters, while at school she feels like she has to prove herself so occasionally beats up and bullies other students. At home Fatima is constantly reminded to find a man and start a family while at school she realises that she likes girls.
Living in the banlieue means a daily three-hour commute to University in Paris. While in transit, she can process what is going on in her life as well as gaze the world flashing past the window.
“Overwhelmed by my thoughts, I ended up listening to Descartes rather than my mother. I decided to relearn my religion on my own, to be reborn. During my studies, I regularly visit the mosque that’s half a mile from my university.”
Daas has a voice and will not be shamed by the contradictions of her situation. Although she feels like an outsider, it is friendship which gives her resilience and the ability to resist. She is candid about her various relationships with women and her strong religious beliefs. Her relationship with her mother evolves into a kind of mutual wordless understanding; an acceptance of sorts.
Daas is ambitious, talented and on the move . . . Her strangely beautiful, poetic, urban mythmaking is imbued with existential despair and dark humour. What next?
The Last One by Fatima Daas, translated by Lara Vergnaud | HopeRoad Publishing | 192 pp 27 January 2022 | ISBN 978-1913109851
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