Literal Hotties will focus on reviews and recommendations of titles by womxn of colour, both fiction and non-fiction.
“To be honest hotties, this is one of the most stunning memoirs I’ve read in quite some time.”
I won’t lie, part of what drew me to this title was the fact Nina’s surname is so similar to mine. I know a North African surname when I see one, so I latched onto it like a magnet. Also, it’s a banging cover – yes, I do judge a book by its cover, face your front.
To be honest hotties, this is one of the most stunning memoirs I’ve read in quite some time. Nina’s translator, Aneesa Abbas Higgins, deserves heavy praise here. Translating the memoir from French I’m sure was no easy feat, and Higgins maintains the elegance and vulnerability in Bouraoui’s words and memories so incredibly well that I was speechless. Occasionally, with translated work, the essence of the writer can be lost due to the natural differences in language, but this was not the case here.
Nina Bouraoui takes readers through vivid but short memories that scatter across the book from her childhood in Algeria, to her entry into adulthood in France. It begins with an Aristotle quote, hinting at where the title has originated from. Unfortunately for me, any significance of the quote stops there, as I left my discovery of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers at uni, after I horrifically pronounced – in front of everyone – Socrates’ name as ‘So-Crates’. Not to be dramatic but I want to die just remembering it, because I said it with chest.
All Men Want to Know doesn’t necessarily have a beginning, or a middle and an end. It is not a linear narrative, and as a story goes it does not have a particular purpose. This, I found clever as a tool in telling her story, because it is also reflected in the chapters. Each one is incredibly short, providing snapshot-like memories that we as readers are only given just enough to understand and grow curious about Nina. They are memories that may seem insignificant in the moment, or to others, but would inadvertently help shape the woman Nina becomes.
“It touches on Nina’s difficulty to form friendships, as well as allowing herself to be loved by her first romantic partner, Julia. It also shows us how terrifying it is to be around men.”
The book ultimately centres around Nina’s discovery of her sexuality, and her growing integration into the lesbian community in Paris. It provides understated melancholic memories of it being a well known fact amongst the community in Algeria, but never something addressed directly by her parents. As such, Nina’s understanding of romantic love, relationships and sex is stunted and it is not until she attends university in Paris that she gets a taste of freedom to learn that.
Nina gives readers more than just this though; there is a layered retelling of multiple factors that have made her the lonely and isolated young adult she was in the 80’s as a student. All Men Want to Know touches on the AIDs crisis, and how it was barely spoken of in the lesbian community, it touches on Nina’s difficulty to form friendships, as well as allowing herself to be loved by her first romantic partner, Julia. It also shows us how terrifying it is to be around men.
“Bouraoui vividly describes certain towns, as well as the capital, and if I just closed my eyes for a few moments I could picture sitting in my uncle’s car, watching the clouds of sand and dirt pass us as we would drive to a relatives house.”
There is so much that simmers beneath the surface of this memoir, that I don’t even think I have a big enough word count to adequately explore it. Not gonna lie, I’m kinda gassed about how smart I currently feel like I’m sounding.
An anger simmers inside you as a reader when you witness all these individual insignificant encounters that have ultimately caused the deep rooted fear and shame that drowns a young Nina. It explores how men even treat the women that they love poorly – there is a particular heartbreaking moment where her best childhood friend Ali literally leaves her to die. There’s a joint feeling of heartbreak and betrayal for both Bouraoui and the reader, having come to realise that, as a child, that even this person who had so easily accepted and loved her for the short duration of her life, violently turned his back on her.
Ali, if you ever read this, just answer me this question: can you fight?
There are certain passages that, to me, weren’t even that deep but caused a sense of deep longing in me to think about my parents home country of Morocco. Bouraoui vividly describes certain towns, as well as the capital, and if I just closed my eyes for a few moments I could picture sitting in my uncle’s car, watching the clouds of sand and dirt pass us as we would drive to a relatives house. Smelling a scent so specific to Morocco that I longed to step off a plane again; it’s a longing she consistently feels while in France, because as much as she revels in the freedom she is granted in Paris, there is a deep ache for a home she regards so close to her heart.
“All Men Want to Know provides readers with such a rounded, multifaceted collection of memories. It feels almost unethical – like a violent intrusion into Nina’s brain – when reading these intimate memories and feelings.”
Sorry guys, usually I’m so much more annoying with my jokes, cause they just fit the material so much, but this book has me so in my feelings that all I wanna do is send a basket of kittens to the author.
Ultimately, All Men Want to Know provides readers with such a rounded, multifaceted collection of memories. It feels almost unethical – like a violent intrusion into Nina’s brain – when reading these intimate memories and feelings. Especially as there is such a soft and deep sadness brimming beneath the surface. You ache with Bouraoui’s loneliness, with her separation from her family – which has steadily built up after years – and with her inability to form close bonds with friends. Her shame, and lack of understanding of who she is runs so deep that it is difficult to pinpoint any specific reason for it.
“Readers are not necessarily given a conclusion towards the end, but there is a small pivotal moment where Bouraoui believes she will change and develop, and with that moment comes hope.”
This, I believe, is ultimately the point of the book. That there isn’t a specific reason, a singular moment, it is a collection of small insignificant moments that have built and festered like an illness with no symptoms. Her French grandparents’ racism, the homophobia of her home country, her mother’s unwillingness to confront the abuse that she as a woman has suffered – which in turn does not prepare Bouraoui for the abuse that she would be subject to for just existing as a woman – and her feelings of rejection from her only friend as a child.
All of this has fed into the feelings of loneliness, shame and inadequacy that has tinged Bouraoui’s memories with sadness throughout. Readers are not necessarily given a conclusion towards the end, but there is a small pivotal moment where Bouraoui believes she will change and develop, and with that moment comes hope. After all, everyone at 18 is on the cusp of dramatic changes and realisations.
My problems at that age most definitely pale in comparison, honestly I’m a little embarrassed about it.
Also, if this book has taught me anything it’s that men truly are a plague, go argue with your mother.