This nuanced portrait of Gertrude Stein, presented through the eyes of a fictional male lover from Morocco known only as Muhammad, comes from noted Moroccan journalist and poet Najmi (A Little Life). The narrator, a poet and journalist named Abu Hasan, befriends the elderly Muhammad, who claims that during his younger days, he met Stein while she was in Tangier and was afterward invited to live at her celebrated Parisian salon. Knowing that he is dying, Muhammad persuades Hasan to write his memoirs. In turn, Hasan enlists the research aid of an American diplomat, Lydia Altman, who becomes his lover. Meanwhile, Muhammad tells of how, as a habitué of Stein’s salon, he befriended famous artists and poets like Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire. He also fell in love with Stein, despite her ‘masculine’ and ‘arrogant’ personality, creating domestic discord with her longtime companion and lover, Alice B. Toklas. While Stein affectionately addressed Muhammad as ‘Mo,’ she was never a monogamous lover and continued her sexual liaisons with Toklas. In the present day, Hasan, who is married, and Lydia have their own relationship problems while he wrestles with writing Muhammad’s life story. But Najmi makes the difficult, idiosyncratic Gertrude Stein as much the focus of his novel as Muhammad, Hasan, and Lydia, presenting the famed writer in a refreshingly new light. —Publishers Weekly
Hassan Najmi, Moroccan poet, novelist, journalist, and educator, is a major figure in the cultural life of his country. In 2006 he was awarded a doctoral degree in Arabic literature by Muhammad the Fifth University in Rabat.
In 2011 Roger Allen retired from his position as Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. The author of many books and articles on the Arabic literary tradition (including The Arabic Novel [Syracuse University Press, 1995] and The Arabic Literary Heritage [Cambridge University Press, 1998]), he has also published a large number of translations of modern Arabic fiction, by authors including Naguib Mahfouz, Yusuf Idris, Hanan al-Shaykh, `Abd al-rahman Munif, Salim Himmich, and Ahmad al-Tawfiq. In 2012 he was awarded the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for his translation of Himmich’s novel A Muslim Suicide.