Books

Fatima Daas: A Fragmented Self-Portrait

Inspired by the writer’s own life, The Last One – which will be released in the United States on November 23 – offers a contemporary take on the concerns felt by a young woman and practicing Muslim, torn between her faith and her homosexuality. A debut novel that has drawn praise from Virginie Despentes.
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© Rémy Artiges

“My name is Fatima Daas.” This simple phrase, repeated as if to convince herself, starts every chapter in The Last One. Sometimes, the last name is removed, leaving only Fatima, “a symbolic figure in Islam,” “a name that mustn’t be ‘soiled,’ as we say in my house.” Born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the youngest of three daughters in an Algerian family, the narrator grew up in Clichy-sous-Bois, a working-class town near Paris. Raised by a loving mother and a father who wanted a son, Fatima quickly learned about fear, shame, and the feeling of having to hide who she was from her family, at school, and at the mosque. She had secret relationships with younger and older women, telling herself that she was polyamorous to avoid facing her own emotions.

Fatima Daas is a pseudonym. The author, who defines herself as an intersectional feminist, started writing in high school and attended writing workshops run by novelist Tanguy Viel. After graduating with a Master’s degree in creative writing from Paris 8 University in Saint-Denis, she published The Last One at the age of 26. “She carves out a portrait, like a patient, attentive sculptor,” wrote acclaimed author Virginie Despentes. Fatima Daas’ sentences are simple, factual, and intentionally repetitive.

Drawing on scenes from daily life, she seizes autobiographical material to better examine every detailed layer of it: the almost simultaneous discovery of religious practice and homosexuality, the feeling of being torn between a sincere faith and an identity that her religion condemns and rejects, and the desire to reconcile everything without compromise. As a “girl from the banlieue who observes how the Parisians act,” the narrator looks deep into the symbolic rift between the two sides of the capital’s beltway, and the classist contempt she experiences when a teacher accuses her of getting help for her homework, refusing to believe that she could be a gifted student.

“It’s the story of a girl who isn’t really a girl, who isn’t Algerian or French, who isn’t from Clichy or Paris, a Muslim I think, but not a good Muslim, a lesbian whose homophobia is built into her,” says Fatima to her mother at the end of the book. “What else?” The Last One starts and ends in the family kitchen, the domain of a mother who wants to teach her daughter to prepare food for a hypothetical husband. Fatima did not learn how to cook, but she did learn how to write, and this is also what this fragmented novel recounts, pushing its way through a dense mass of taboos.

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The Last One by Fatima Daas, translated from French by Lara Vergnaud, Other Press, November 23, 2021. 208 pages, 15.99 dollars.


Article published in the December 2021 issue of France-AmériqueSubscribe to the magazine.

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