Book review: The Last One by Fatima Daas
“My name is Fatima Daas.” This is the rhythmic refrain of Fatima Daas’ debut novel The Last One, a tender but powerful exploration of the “often conflicting facets of her identity: French. Algerian. Muslim. Lesbian.”
The book, which was originally published in France in 2020 and then swiftly released in English in December 2021, is equal parts second-generation immigrant novel and queer coming-of-age story.
Daas shares an intimate, confessional account of growing up in the majority-Muslim suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, from nuggets about her upbringing, such as “show through little gestures but never say,” to her conversations with Muslim leaders about how her anonymous “friend” can assimilate her queer lifestyle into her Muslim ideology.
The Last One: both breezy & thought provoking
At 193 pages, ‘The Last One’ is a remarkably quick read, providing an ideal balance of breezy prose with thought-provoking character development and punchy anecdotes.
Daas’ writing, translated deftly from the French by Lara Vergnaud, is nuanced and lyrical. Through the voice of a young person grappling with their identity, she introduces us to the protagonist’s sexuality through subtlety. Following a beautiful description about admiring a female friend enjoying a sunny afternoon under a tree, she shares:
I remember sitting in the same spot with someone else.
A boy whom I didn’t watch.
This quiet statement is exemplary of the kind of power that Daas packs into each sentence.
Fatima Dass: the author’s writing style
Daas consistently writes with intentionality.
She repeats character descriptions throughout the book, not only further emphasizing to the reader that every sentence and every word has been carefully constructed to add to the narrative but also that some details are more important than others, and therefore, worth repeating. This repetition communicates that our identities are central to our understanding of the world. Every memory we have or moment we share is colored by the lens of our identity– Daas refuses to let us ignore or forget hers.
At the same time, these identifiers rotate throughout the chapters.
Shifting yet recurring reminders of her religion, her cultural heritage, her name, the meaning of her name, her health status, and her family suggest that while our personal identities are foundational to our being, they also come in and out of focus as we navigate our daily lives. Sometimes those identities make us stand out in a crowd, as the fictional Daas seems to feel during her daily train commute; at other times, those same identities make us feel at home, as she seems to feel when she first discovers the Parisian queer community.
The undercurrents of the book embody the themes that many of us, as women, or even more specifically as queer women or as the daughters of immigrants grapple with, in everyday life:
- societal roles of womanhood;
- our own desires or lack thereof to be seen as feminine;
- the dissonance of religious or spiritual values and our lived experiences (read: how can we let religion guide us without harming us or others?);
- the relationship between physical intimacy and romantic love;
- the alienation of intimately knowing two countries but belonging to neither;
- the power and meaning of language.
The Last One: recommendation
‘The Last One’ is a refreshing new voice in the sphere of English-translated French literature–and an important story to hear from the Muslim diaspora of Paris.
This book, which reads with the concise clarity of Hemingway but with the beauty and architectural white space of poetry, is a true work of art and a more than a pleasurable way to spend an afternoon.
The Last One
by Fatima Daas
“- PEN Translation Prize Longlist
– New York Times Book Review: Editor’s Choice
– Bustle: Best Book of the Month
– Library Journal: Best Debut Novel of the Season
– Lambda Literary: Most Anticipated Book of the Month”