Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami

Four young Moroccans are desperate enough to risk their lives to leave their homeland, their identities

Wow. This book was amazing. Linked short stories about four different Moroccans with zero economic prospects. The unifying element is each of them stepping onto a leaky fishing boat to Spain. We see them before they leave and we see them after the boat trip. Lalami has an unadorned pellucid writing style. She is a master of showing, not telling. The stories are gripping because the stakes are so high for the characters – there are simply no jobs for these people. The economic engine of Morocco is sputtering and huge classes of people – mostly young men, have no jobs. Finally, the decision to emigrate tears irrevocably the bonds between husband and wife, and between a young woman and her happiness. Emigration is damaging, but better than being a parasite, begging your mother for spare change.

Also this book works on two levels – it’s a work of art, and it also teaches the reader about Moroccan culture, how it’s criminally inefficient, how women are repressed, how Islamic piety is resurging, and how people process these contradictions. I really enjoyed this book, though the last story had a core of phoniness and fake dialogue. That was the one with American characters.

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