I’m Chaima, or Chai. I’m 21 years old, Moroccan, indigenous, Muslim, and non-binary (I use the pronouns they/them, and sometimes she/her).
And… I love to read.
Here are a few more things about me:
I’m an undergraduate student in France, majoring in Literature, Languages, and Regional and Foreign Civilizations—a monstrously hybrid field of study that stretches from English Literature, to British Civilization, to Lexicology (and once, even a few ill-advised Russian courses). It’s quite a mouthful, too, so I took to resignedly muttering English Lit in order to avoid the inevitable look of utter consternation that usually follows.
Two years ago, however, I used to be a med student. When I told my parents that I was going to pursue a career in literature instead of registering for a new semester in med school, I struggled for language to adequately explain that this decision had fit my mind as nothing else ever had—like air to a flute. But it felt true as I said it. It felt as if it had always been true, and had only needed my knowing. I clung to my choice, then, molded it into a spear of decisiveness as strong as the resolve I’d once needed to immigrate to France, eighteen years old and fresh out of high school.
I found a fire, a ferocious brightness in this new existence. Literature had always made me feel reassured and nourished in channels of my heart which had seemed to stand dry for years. As a child, you could no more pull me from my books than you could fly into the air. As a teenager working part-time in the local library, I felt there an internal sweetness that was indescribable beyond a deep harmony of rightness.
Three years ago, I started reviewing books on my blog and on Goodreads, and I just… never stopped. I grew up in a small town in Morocco, and was quite frankly a bit of a hermit. I had no conversational skills, and no one to blabber about fictional characters with. At some point, running my fingers under the words, feeling for the comfort and companionship I knew I would always find sheltered there, just wasn’t enough. So I sought people to talk books with like an ember sought air, and the prospect of making bookish friends through reviews pulled me along like a child with a hold of my sleeve. Miraculously, it worked. Over the years, I have forged a link between me and so many people—fellow readers, authors, publishers—those who, like me, were dogged with the invisible burden of unbelonging that often stirred them from the stillness and sent them out into the page in search of solace, those who carried stories like a secret talisman in their pockets and rubbed words looking for comfort until they were worn smooth as creek stones. And I’ve found that the best friendships are often born out of a shared frenzied, fevered passion for fictional worlds and characters.
In so many ways, my experience in the bookish community—reading, reviewing, or simply talking about fictional characters for an irritably long amount of time—has shaped the architecture of my life:
My native languages are Tamazight and Arabic, my second language is French, so during this time, not only have I been introduced to stories in a foreign tongue that set my mind afire with marvel, I’ve had the opportunity to hone my skills in English, and eventually went on to study a major in English.
I begun to discover and embrace every facet of my queerness thanks to fellow queer friends I’ve met on bookish websites, and through their LGBTQ+ book recommendations.
And let’s be honest, at least 90% of my personality is directly drawn from a myriad of fictional characters.
What I mean to say is—and here, I ask you allow me a few moments of unbearable maudlinism—I’m thankful for this community. Vastly and forever. And I am grateful to be a part of it.
And if you’re reading this, I am looking forward to talking to you about fictional worlds and characters for infuriatingly long stretches of time!