Emma Ramadan’s translation of an excerpt from Rachid O.’s Hot Chocolate appears in the August 2017 issue: The New French.
The little boy of Hot Chocolate yearns. He yearns for his mother, who died in childbirth, along with his little brother. He yearns for Noé, a French boy he discovers in a photograph. He yearns for France, so far away. Rachid O. said in an interview, “I was always attracted to what was far, or what required effort to be attained.” As our narrator grows up in a Muslim family in Morocco, the idea of France, of the French language, of distance, of Noé, of hot chocolate, blend into one single desire for the other, for something different.
Reversing the stereotypical sex tourism of older French men cruising through Arab countries to pick up younger men, or even boys, Hot Chocolate is the story of a Moroccan boy lusting after a French boy, determined to experience all that he stands for. Noé is the narrator’s double, so similar to him—the same age, the same nanny, briefly the same country, forever the same earth—but also his exact opposite, everything he is not, the hot chocolate to his mint tea.
The youngest of seven children, Rachid O. uses a pseudonym to keep from embarrassing his family, all of whom have stayed in Morocco. But he embraces his straddling of two different countries and cultures. This is not a story of a boy bullied for being different, but rather the story of a boy rising to every challenge he sets for himself, and finding his place in the French world, in Noé’s world. Hot Chocolate is the story of a longing so visceral you can feel the ache in your stomach as the narrator breathes in the odor of a photograph, the story of a boy whose first queer desire is intertwined with his desire for what is out there, just out of reach.