You Exist Too Much - Zaina Arafat

Review :

I can't help but feel, as a queer (bi/pansexual) Palestinian myself, that this is a book I (and so many in my community, I suspect) have needed for a long, long time. While Arafat's narrator does a good job at making the Palestinian aspects of this narrative accessible to those outside of our community, it never detracts from the novel or comes off as over-explanatory; this is a book for us, yes, though others are not excluded from the convo. Here is a representation of diasporic queerness, trauma, mental illness, and mother-child relations that really strikes home for me - a representation that is unafraid to lean into uncomfortable, even contradictory, elements and confront conversations some of us may be running from. I loved the journey Arafat's narrator took me on, in all her cringe moments and imperfections. Reading You Exist Too Much made me think of something Carmen Maria Machado touched on in In The Dream House, about how this expectation of neat, morally pure, and sympathetic queer characters under *insert so many intersecting forms of normative gaze* is, itself, queerphobic and dehumanizing. I love that Arafat has given us an intimate look at a messy diasporic main character - yes, one who cheats and does terrible things often - because this character and their trauma *needed* to exist as such within the universe/familial relations of the book, and moreover, this trauma is delved into and unpacked, as the narrator's actions are held accountable, in a very tangible and interesting way.

In summary, I feel not only Seen by many parts of this book, but Understood. On that note alone, this book will always have a special place in my heart & I'm so grateful that it exists. I'm gonna be thinking about these lines from the penultimate chapter for a while:
"From you, I expect more out of a story about love," she'd written in a response. "Tell us about something that left you shattered."


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