As Hassan Najmi’s acclaimed novel begins, our unnamed narrator befriends an elderly man, Muhammad, who, as a young man, worked as a tour guide in the city of Tangier. Muhammad tells the narrator about his most famous clients, the renowned Gertrude Stein and her companion Alice Toklas, who—on the recommendation of Henri Matisse—hired Muhammad as their guide when they visited Morocco. Now close to death, Muhammad begs the narrator to take his papers and write his life story. We learn that Muhammad accepted Stein’s invitation to visit her in Paris. He participated in Stein’s famous salon, meeting the many luminaries in Stein’s circle. As the narrator is drawn into Muhammad’s story, he finds himself also drawn to a beautiful African-American woman who becomes as interested in the story of Stein’s visit to Morocco as she is in the young Moroccan who is researching it. Together they continue their quest into the past to rediscover Stein, in a novel that bursts with different varieties of passion at the hands of a master storyteller and poet.
"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 habitue 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