Book Review – You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

A touching and honest story of a woman navigating the world, unable to reveal her true self to the people she loves the most.


Our protagonist (who I don’t think is ever named) is living with her first serious girlfriend in New York but finds herself unable to control her longings and obsessions for other, unattainable, lovers. After being caught cheating, she seeks help and goes on a sincere journey of self-discovery.


This book is raw and emotive, giving the reader a glimpse into the soul of the woman at its centre. 



I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this novel, but the synopsis caught my attention for the simple reason that I knew I was naive about the lives of similar people. I know nothing of Palestine, the Middle East or being muslim. Add to this the complicated layer of queerness in a family where this is just not an option, and I knew I would be reading something thought-provoking and real.


I wasn’t disappointed and in fact found myself submerged in the story. Although there was no explosive action in the traditional sense, I found myself hungry to know more about this woman and how she became who she is and where her life would take her.


The writing is reflective and introspective and instead of getting to know a cast of characters well, the reader gets to know just one character intimately.


For our protagonist, her sexuality is an important part of her identity, but not the most important. What I found even more enthralling was the codependent relationship with her mother; it is clearly toxic and unhealthy but she is drawn to her in a way I personally cannot comprehend. Add this to the layers of homophobia, the addiction and eating disorders, and you have a robust and intricate character who jumps from the page.


Knowing so much of the protagonist’s inner world fleshes out the character until she is almost a living, breathing person in the room with me. She is neither good not bad, happy nor unhappy. She simply is. And this is the fact of the book that struck me as so unique and inimitable. It is a talented writer indeed who is able to breathe such fierce life into a fictional being.

The story takes place over a number of years and across many cities and countries, each giving a little extra detail to the life we are following.


View this book on Goodreads

There are mentions of pregnancy throughout the book, although rare. During flashbacks we see the protagonist’s mother pregnant with her younger brother. There are other characters who have been pregnant or have children.


Most notably, during a relationship towards the end of the book, the love interest tells the narrator that he wants to “make her pregnant” and uses this as a manipulative tool with which to keep her attached to him. I found this despicable, but recognise that these kinds of thing happen and a woman’s reproductive window can be used to her detriment in abusive relationships. Triggering, yes, but also relevant.

Author details 

To find out more about Zaina Arafat, visit her website here.



Twitter: @ZainaArafat

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