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Pub Date Apr 02 2024 | Archive Date Apr 02 2024

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An unflinching story about Arab masculinity and homoeroticism 

Furat, a Syrian in his early 20s, visits Sibki Park in Damascus, one of the city’s most popular cruising areas. There he learns about the hammams, secret meeting places for gay men located throughout the old city. Inside these public baths, the air is thick with the scent of bay laurel soap, and naked men hide in the steam. Furat faces sometimes violent disapproval from all levels of society—regime, religion, the man in the street—and yet he manages to find the love he’s been seeking just before his world collapses and he’s forced to flee. Selamlik is the story of Furat’s journey, along with that of other refugees. It’s a journey in which they face physical and economic hardship, draconian migration laws, and the unwelcome grief, shame, and hatred they’ve carried with them from their ever more distant pasts. Despite everything, Furat remains steadfast in his pursuit of passion, pleasure, and love.

An unflinching story about Arab masculinity and homoeroticism 

Furat, a Syrian in his early 20s, visits Sibki Park in Damascus, one of the city’s most popular cruising areas. There he learns about the...

Advance Praise

“Khaled Alesmael reminds me of Jean Genet, brutal and hopelessly romantic at the same time.” ―Jonas Gardell, Expressen

“Despite the difficult themes dealt with in the book, it is always full of humor and irony.” ―Henrik Bromander, Swedish Television

“In the novel Selamlik, the Syrian-Swedish writer Khaled Alesmael tells of curiosity and desire - and the winter landscape of Sweden. With a mixture of pleasant laconicism and narrative poignancy, Khaled Alesmael does not shy away from describing the horrors of civil war or the more tangible details of love between men. One can smell both the ‘slaughtered lemons’ from the trees of bombed Damascus and the mixture of sweat and castile soap in the catacombs of the hammams. All this without becoming pornographic, either in terms of horror or sex.” ―TAZ Berlin

“What does it mean to be a homosexual man in dictatorial pre-war Syria? The author Khaled Alesmael, who fled to Sweden, talks about this in his autobiographically grounded novel Selamlik: precise, crystalline and with amazing calm, without any lyrical and metaphorical exuberance.” ―Deutschlandfunk Kultur

Selamlik, which means "a room only for men", is Khaled Alesmael's debut novel. Alesmael's language is beautiful in its simplicity and manages to be powerful without great excesses.” ―Amnesty Press

“A future classic”― Dagens Nyheter

“Khaled Alesmael reminds me of Jean Genet, brutal and hopelessly romantic at the same time.” ―Jonas Gardell, Expressen

“Despite the difficult themes dealt with in the book, it is always full of humor...

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ISBN 9781642861488
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Average rating from 37 members

Featured Reviews

The best aspect of this novel for me was learning about pre-war Syrian "gay" scene. I put gay in scare quotes intentionally and especially because Alesmael lacks any critical distance from the Western identity model of same-sex desire. So much so that some pages are written like little political messages to his fellow Syrians to "raise their awareness" and "become more tolerant" of "gays". I also wanted to know more about the French colonial legacy when it comes to the conceptualisation and experience of same-sex desire. On the other hand, it gave me a better understanding of what was happening politically and socially before and after the outbreak of the war in Syria. It also made me mourn the fact that I or anyone else will never visit the (in)famous Damascene hammams, but at least we have this trace to remember them by.

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Furat is a gay man living in Syria. Living in a society that does not accept his way of life, As he finds happiness he must flee the regime and begin a new life in Sweden,
The author does a good job at showing Furat's struggle. Difficult topics are covered. He's just a man who wants love and happiness in his life. To get there he must go through many hardships.
Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to see an ARC

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This is the first novel by Khaled Alesmael, a Syrian author, and it's truly a beautiful book. The story revolves around a man's journey of survival from Syria to seeking refuge in Sweden. It's an important work that sheds light on gay life in Syria, which has been deeply affected by the civil war. I'm pleased to see more books emerging from the Middle East in recent years, and I hope this one reaches a wide audience.

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Thank you to Netgalley, the author, Khaled Alesmael, World Editions publishing, and Leri Price (the translator who did an amazing job from what I can tell) for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Wow....I loved this!

Selamlik, is the story of Farat, a Syrian gay man who seeks asylum in Sweden after living through horrific violence, prejudice, and loss, but also intense pleasure, self discovery, and love in Syria. When Farat gets to Sweden things are better in some ways but there are new challenges, and Farat grapples with mixed emotions towards both his homeland and his new home and community.

It is written like a memoir, with the main character, Farat, recounting his story in a non-linear fashion, going back and forth in time, starting and stopping in the middle, and weaving in dreams, poetic musings, and sexual fantasies that often sometimes combine violence and pleasure. It is incredibly raw and so beautifully written. It is not overly graphic, but it doesn't shy away from difficult and disturbing themes either. It is filled with tenderness and hope.

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this was so lyrical, so beautiful, so heartbreaking, and at its core, so real. a struggle so many men face now - hiding their true selves because society doesn't accept them as they are, being "abnormal". a tale of curiosity and desire, of humor and heartbreak. truly a book many should read.

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The story of refugees that the news will never tell, or a Western author may not provide such profound insights. This novel, written in Arabic, boasts the uniqueness of its lyrical language, vivid descriptions, and an authentic voice. Translator Leri Price has done an excellent job, understanding the queer voice of the writer.

Furat, the protagonist, hails from a city devastated by war and ongoing conflicts. The writer opts to sidestep the conflicts covered by news channels, guiding us to a serene bank at the Euphrates. Here, he shares a story from his childhood, recounting his rebellion against the stern Imam, his mother's adoption of a puppy, and his admiration for bearded men at the neighborhood mosque.

The steamy, hot, and erotic language takes precedence over the bloody events of war. While Syria is recognized as a war-torn country, the revelation of two young lovers making passionate love under their bed in the suburbs in 2012 in Damascus .

The war thrusts Furat onto European shores after a BDSM night with an American tourist in Istanbul. Leaving a hotel bed, Furat joins 60 other refugees on a rubber boat. Surviving the death Mediterranean journey, Furat, clad in a jockstrap, cleverly defies refugee stereotypes. This chapter is left me like WOW.

One aspect I didn't like about this book is that it left me yearning for more.

In 2020, during her masterclass, Joyce Carol Oates mentioned that no one has written a novel composed of short stories, or short stories forming a novel. She should read this book, already published in 2018 but in Swedish and German. "Selamlik" is a novel composed of short stories, with each short story structured into brief chapters. The narrative is truly original and unique, I must say.

Thanks to World Editions for allowing me to delve into this wonderful story. I anticipate this book to gain prominence in LGBTQAI literature. Having read two books by different authors but written in English, with an approach more tailored to please Western readers, this book stands out as authentic and well-written.

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I think my biggest issue with this book was that it wasn’t the book I expected from the description. While the description seemed to emphasize the queer exploration aspect, I found the book centred so heavily on the political aspect, that I lost much of the personal.

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This is such an interesting account of a Syrian refugee during the times of war. It not only goes into personal detail about the war itself, and the lives of the displaced Syrians who had to continue to live their daily lives while looking for a recourse out, but it also goes into the story of a man who also has to deal with being gay and the many amorous relationships that he has throughout the book. I learned a lot about that region and history from this book, and I love the representation of this story discussing Arabs in the LGBT community.

I found the narrative to be a bit too meandering at times. It would sometimes go off on flashback tangents mid-chapter, so the non-linear timeline confused me. I also found the spice scenes to be very off-putting; the author gave the characters strange nicknames like “Curly Woman” “Sexy Bear” “Black Guy” “Iraqi Man” instead of fleshing them out with real names, so the spice scenes were a complete turn off to me.

The other thing is that this book is NOT beginner friendly. It uses a lot of Arabic originating words constantly through the story, but there is no appendix or footnote explaining what “ifrit” is or “imam” etc. So you will have to do a lot of looking words up which takes you out of the immersion of the story.

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After fleeing war torn Syria, Furat is trying to settle in Sweden with many other Middle Eastern men who are also fleeing various wars.

Told as almost a diary, Selamlik (a male only dormitory) follows Furat as a young gay man on his journey growing up in Syria. Living life closeted, but a part of the underground gay scene. He tells the sorry lovers, of visits to hammams with other closeted men, of country torn apart in a way that he doesn’t recognise it as the country of his youth, and the journey he takes to escape. His dreams of seeking asylum in Sweden come with one reason: to live as an out gay man. But is this be possible when he is surrounded by men whose views remain in their homeland?

This was a great read. The writing was almost poetic and very visual to me. As a @netgalley pick, I must admit the cover drew me in 😅 but once I started reading I couldn’t put it down.

The life of a gay man in a country where being gay isn’t accepted was super interesting to me in the ways that they build connections and find each other. Of course the way they get to fulfil their needs also plays a part here, from the bathhouses to the parks, from word of mouth, to the straights who just don’t care as long as they get their rocks off.

On the other hand, it was heartbreaking to read of the difficulties Furat faced settling in Sweden. The unknown aspects of his time in Sweden, his inability to love his authentic self due to the homophobia he experiences from the other asylum seekers, it makes you wonder if he feels the struggle of the journey was worth it, as he was having more men in Syria than Sweden, which leads him to fantasise about the other men he loves with. Some of these fantasies written in such beautiful detail

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This was such a heartwrenching read for me. The book is emotive, raw and takes the reader through some beautiful memories.

From the moment it starts, it follows Furat in pre-war Syria as he explores his homosexuality to the events that lead him to immigrating to Sweden. I think Alesmael's description of the experience of being an immigrant in Sweden and the complete shock to everything he knows is one that is sorely lacking from fiction books in general. The time jumps keeps the memories and the sense of who Furat was before and who he is now fresh in the mind of the reader and makes the juxtaposition even more tangible.

The description of Syria, and providing a different experience to life there is one that should not be understated. The gay scene in the Middle East is rarely ever described, nor given the proper room to portray the nuance and complexities of what it is like to be gay in Syria and broader in the Middle East. Reading Furat's experiences with other homosexual men and navigating these fleeting but impactful relationships made this book that much better.

The language Alesmael is poetic and lyrical which makes sense since Arabic is heavily predicated on poetry and lyricism, and I think the translator did a good job of translating the prose. I wish I had the book in Arabic so that I could compare and experience his use of words first hand.

So glad I read it, and I hope to see more of Khaled Alesmael in bookstores around the world.

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This is a gentle exploration of humanity and home. The real question that Alesmael seems to be exploring is what does asylum, or safety, really feel like. Not just asylum from a dictator, from a government or military, but asylum from a world that repeatedly tells you that your existence is a sin. How can our bodies, and the bodies of others that we fleetingly share, become a sort of asylum, a personal safety that allows for distance from external violence and chaos? The writing is both direct and dreamy, with a really beautiful sense of place, a texture that lets you really feel as if you’re there. It is imbued with an almost tactile sense of longing, but one that isn’t just for flesh, and it isn’t just for safety, either. It is a longing for home, for the Syria that the protagonist loves and remembers, for the freedom and joy of his youth as his mother and brothers weave him a world of compassion and play, but for that home, that safety, to embrace and hold his queerness, too. He is constantly pulled between the past and the future, and the story highlights that by going back and forth between his life in Syria and his arrival in Sweden seeking asylum.

The novel reads more like a memoir than a novel, in my opinion. For some that may be appealing, and it does allow us to get a really good sense of time and place, it makes Damascus and other parts of the Syria where he lived feel real. But for me it made the story a little less compelling. I didn’t feel like there was any strong propulsion, because my investment in his experiences in Sweden were literally framed as devices for him to remember his life in Syria. So while I had the chance to explore this ethereal idea of safety, of wanting to finally be free in your skin and your love, the story itself didn’t pull me along. It was a bunch of vignettes pieced together, so I had a hard time going on a journey with the protagonist.

I enjoyed reading it, both for the language and for the inviting way it opened up for me cultures and places that I would never the chance to experience on my own. I also think the ideas of safety, of belonging, of constantly longing for something that would let you feel truly you but is always just out of reach. And the writing had a dreamlike quality that made it seem like we were viewing everything through a scrim, through a lens that had been dabbed with Vaseline, and that felt appropriate given how unrooted our protagonist is. Still I would have liked there to be something more propelling, something in the present-day storyline, at least, to show growth and change and emotional development. The memoir-vibe just didn’t excite me as much as other possibilities this story could have taken, but your mileage will vary. I am glad I had the chance to experience this, and it definitely makes me interested to see what else Alesmael will write.

(I suppose I should add that this English translation was done by Leri Price, and while I obviously cannot compare it to the original I thought it was great.)

I want to thank the author, the publisher World Editions, and NetGalley, who provided a complimentary eARC for review. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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3.5 stars - SELAMLIK centers around the life of a gay Syrian man called Furat and his life both before and after the Syrian civil war, living in Syrian cities such as Aleppo and Damascus, as well as seeking refuge in Sweden.

It is quite an intense book, both in its homoeroticism and war brutality. The writing about Furat's fear, guilt, desire and pleasure that are vivid and compelling, while evocative even in its non-grauitous, factual retelling of the violence and brutality of the war. Another thing I really appreciate is Alesmael's depiction of modern Syria that sheds light on daily life before the conflict, and especially the lives of gay men in the cities, which are surprisingly culturally rooted yet quite liberal, defying any preconceptions.

Although I wish the ending was less abrupt, it was fitting nevertheless. I recommend this novel for those who don't shy away from sexual and war content, and there is much to learn from it.

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3-3.5 stars. The outstanding part of this book was its exploration of immigrant/refugee/asylum seeker experiences. The main character is a gay man who escapes the civil war in Syria and who eventually ends up in Sweden, but even though the author lifts from his own specific experiences, the story is also universal enough for the reader to learn about the struggles and losses of someone who has to leave their homeland.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital ARC of the book in exchange for my honest review.

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I had a really difficult time giving this a star rating and went back and forth between 4 and 5 stars. I enjoyed it, found it incredibly interesting, and think it's an important book, which made me want to give it 5 stars, but then I likely won't read it again, so I decided to go with 4.

This is a semi-autobiographical novel about a gay man living in Syria prior to the civil war. It does jump back and forth in time, between his life in Syria (both before and during the war) as well as his new life in Sweden as a refugee with uncertain status. I've read several other books by Syrian refugees, however, they were both refugees to Canada, and it seems like the refugee process is quite different between Canada and Sweden. Or, it could also be the difference between being a refugee the "right way" (submitting your name, waiting for the call, getting on a plane, etc) and being a refugee the "wrong way" (escaping to Greece, taking a boat to Turkiye, using smugglers to get you to another country). I absolutely don't think there is a right or wrong way to be a refugee, but I'm sure that governments think there is.

It was interesting to read about the experience of a gay man in a Muslim country, and how there were these small spaces that he was able to fully be himself. The hammams that he frequented, that despite homosexuality being illegal in Syria, he didn't feel shame and lived as openly as he was able to. And then when he eventually made it to Sweden, where it's not illegal, he still wasn't able to live openly, as he had hoped.

While this is a fictional story, I saw that it is somewhat autobiographical, and it does read more like a biography than a novel. I think this is probably because it is written in first person, and with a few exceptions (Furat, our narrator, has a vivid imagination) it is very realistic.

I definitely recommend this book if you are wanting to read more diversely and outside of a Western lens.

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This book took me by total surprise. Selamlik follows Furat, a gay Syrian refugee through his life in Syria and his journey leaving and arriving as a refugee in Sweden. The novel is not told linearly and the main character goes off on internal musings often, but the prose is stunning and I have not been able to stop thinking about this book since I finished it. This at times could be a challenging read, but I loved it and hope to see more of Khaled Alesmael’s work get translated into English.

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Well, where to begin with this!

First of all, thank you to NetGalley and World Editions for the ARC - I'd wanted to get my hands on the English version of this since I saw it pop up in my Goodreads feed!

A refugee tale told from a different perspective, focused on Furat, a gay Syrian who we meet at various points in his life, in Syria, Sweden, and Turkey. We see romance, discrimination, violence, war, and family all through Furat's lens, as he struggles for acceptance.

So, that's the brief synopsis. What did I think?

To start with, the good: I loved the perspective this is told from, and the humanity the story lends to refugees, particularly with certain parts of the media hung up on demonising refugees, in particularly those from the Middle East. As a gay man, I also understood elements of Furat's growing up, and felt that the erotic scenes were mostly well-written (I'd love to find a real-life Ali...) Furat's feeling of isolation among groups of heterosexual men, his fumbling to speak to Ali, and his feeling of alienation in a completely new home while reliant on others were all relatable to me (however for me, the latter through personal choice - moving overseas for work - not fleeing war).

Where this didn't quite hit the mark for me was the structure. Part of me wonders if this was the point - it felt fragmented, perhaps reflective of Furat's life and experiences. Chronologically, I felt it would have been better with more cohesive flashbacks - one chapter could contain several time periods, for example. Also, I wish there'd been more focus on the love interests - Alesmael writes these so well, and I was dying to see what happened with Ali, who simply wasn't mentioned again, along with a couple of others. Again perhaps this is emblematic of the difficulty of maintaining a homosexual relationship in the Middle East, but I found myself wanting to know more about Furat's relationships, his desires. Instead, I feel Alesmael tried to cram everything into one novel and had it lose focus, rather than explore more deeply. I wanted to know about Furat's relationships with his Mother, his Aunt, his elder brother, with Ali, but wasn't taken there.

Anything bad? There was a bizarre scene towards the end that flew right over my head - in the Swedish Language Institute - and a couple of moments where the writing felt like 'Tension 101' (repeated sentences that get shorter each time). However these were minor, and not enough to wreck the novel.

Overall I did enjoy this, and would read another novel by Alesmael as his words are eminently readable - I blasted through this in just a couple of days - but next time, I'd love more a deeper insight rather than an overview. A solid 3.5 stars, that I would round up to 4.

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i read this as an ARC from netgalley and i’m so glad i did. i learnt a lot about both gay syrian culture as well as the experience of syrian refugee seeking asylum. furat, the protagonist, awaits his fate in a house for asylum seekers, recounting his life and relationships in syria as well as reflecting on his experience in sweden. it’s harrowing at times, but also has an air of hope. if you get the chance to read this, do.

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This is a strange book to review. It seems to be both a story about refugees and leaving a wartorn country behind, it's also a story about being gay and acceptance. It's strange because I had mixed feelings about it all. At times it was compelling and I was unable to put it down. At others, I didn't fully connect with it for some reason.
Overall I enjoyed it, but I find it very hard to decide what my feelings about it are. Perhaps I just need to give it a bit of time to digest and then reassess.
I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own and given voluntarily.

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Khaled Alesmael’s debut novel ‘Selamlik’ is an important, heartbreakingly brutal, yet beautifully honest semi-autobiographical account depicting life for Arab gay men in both Syria and Sweden during the early 2000s.

Furat, named after the Euphrates River, is a gay Syrian man trying to find love in a country that does not accept him or others like him. He escapes to Sweden in the hope of living a better life as his true self, only to discover the harsh reality of what it means to be a gay, Arab immigrant in a white-dominated European country.

As we follow Furat on his journey for love and acceptance, the book describes in horrific detail the political climate in Syria and the persecution suffered by the LGBTQ+ community. And it’s this detail which sets this book apart from its peers.

As mentioned, the story switches between Syria and Sweden at various points in Furat’s life. We’d hope that Sweden would offer refuge and acceptance, but sadly at best he’s seen as an erotic novelty, only to be discarded and disregarded once he’s had his use. He finds more love in a country that prohibits it and carries a jail sentence, than in what we would all perceive as a progressive and open country. In Sweden he faces nothing but exclusion and discrimination.

It’s a harrowing and difficult read in places, and that’s exactly as it should be. We do not have nearly enough accounts in Western literature of life for queer Arab people. So writers such as Alesmael need to be read and heard. Outstanding.

Thank you to NetGalley and World Editions for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Many Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is a brilliant juxtaposition of the pre-war Syrian gay bathhouse scene and the trials, tribulations, and horrors of wartime refugees. Our protagonist alternates his narrative between his childhood to early adulthood in Syria, and his post-war adulthood seeking asylum in Sweden. This novel is very dreamlike, with the narrator constantly pulled into fantasies and memories of both his sexual exploits and his wartime experiences. You can expect sexy, terrifying, enlightening, educational, brutal, and then sexy again. The whiplash lends such a real and human feeling to the reading experience.
This novel is an instant addition to the canon of Gay Literature, and is reminiscent in parts of Andrew Holleran's Dancer from the Dance. I would love to read this novel in the original Arabic; I thought the style and prose was nice, although I do not take translations into account in my rating.

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Selamlik is a novel that focuses on survival and waiting. It captures grief as well as alienation within an already alienated group. The novel's strongest aspects were the high contrast between the civil war/brutality and his loving and caring relationships with people, places and various objects. It also intricately weaves hope and despair.

However, the surrealist scenes would’ve been more effective if they were introduced earlier in the text.

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⭐⭐⭐⭐✨- Rounded up - Available 2 April 2024.

I would like to express my gratitude to NetGalley, World Editions, and Khaled Alesmael for providing an eARC of Selamlik for review.

I found myself fully invested in this book from the very beginning when Furat's hookup plans were ruined by the death of Hafez al-Assad. I appreciated the depiction of Syrian gay culture before Furat was forced to confront the harsh realities of his world.

The storytelling is truly exceptional, although the story itself is quite heart-wrenching. Despite this, the book manages to balance the darker moments with plenty of humour and tender moments. Ultimately, this is a story about war, and while it doesn't shy away from the reality of that, it also manages to offer hope and inspiration.

I must caution that this book deals with some heavy subject matter, so it may not be suitable for everyone. Please review the content warnings before deciding if this book is right for you. It is not just a work of Middle Eastern male/male erotica, but a powerful and important piece of storytelling.

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