There's Murad, a gentle, unemployed man who's been reduced to hustling tourists around Tangier; Halima, who's fleeing her drunken husband and the slums of Casablanca; Aziz, who must leave behind his devoted wife in hope of securing work in Spain; and Faten, a student and religious fanatic whose faith is at odds with an influential man determined to destroy her future.
Sensitively written with beauty and boldness, this is a gripping book about what propels people to risk their lives in search of a better future.
About the Author
Laila Lalami was born and raised in Morocco. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship and was short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2006. She lives in Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
By Lalami, Laila
Harvest BooksCopyright © 2006 Lalami, Laila
All right reserved.
LARBI AMRANI DIDN'T consider himself a superstitious man, but when the prayer beads that hung on his rearview mirror broke, he found himself worrying that this could be an omen. His mother had given him the sandalwood beads on his college graduation, shortly before her death, advising him to use them often. At first Larbi had carried the beads in his pocket, fingered them after every prayer, but as the years went by he'd reached for them with decreasing regularity, until one day they ended up as decoration in his car. Now they lay scattered, amber dots on the black floor mats. He picked up as many as he could find and put them in the cup holder, hoping to get them fixed later. He eased the Mercedes down the driveway and into the quiet, tree-lined street. Traffic was unusually light, even when he passed through the crenellated fortress walls at Bab Rouah.
In his office at the Moroccan Ministry of Education, he opened up the day's Al-Alam and asked the chaouch to bring him a glass of mint tea. In a few minutes he would tackle another pile of dossiers, deciding where newly graduated teachers would perform their two years of civil service, but for now he took his time reading the paper and sipping his tea. The headlines announced a train workers' strike and yet another hike in theprices of milk and flour, so he skipped to the sports page.
Before he could read the weekend football scores, his secretary buzzed him to announce that he had a visitor. Larbi put the paper away and stood up to welcome Si Tawfiq, an old friend he hadn't seen in fifteen years. (Or was it fourteen?) They had lived next door to each other in a new apartment complex in downtown Rabat, but after moving out to the suburbs they had lost touch. Si Tawfiq entered the room cloaked in his white burnous, even on this warm September day. After salaams and other pleasantries had been exchanged, Tawfiq cleared his throat. "It's about my niece. She's finishing her degree next summer." His protruding eyes, the result of a thyroid condition, made Larbi uncomfortable.
"Congratulations," Larbi said.
"And she wants a job in Rabat." Tawfiq smiled knowingly.
Larbi tried to conceal his annoyance. The greatest need for teachers was in smaller towns and in the forgotten villages of the Atlas Mountains.
"I was hoping you could help her," Tawfiq added.
"I wish I could, Si Tawfiq," Larbi began. "But we have so few jobs in the city these days. The waiting list is this thick." He held his fingers wide apart, as if he were talking about the phone book.
"I understand," Tawfiq said. "Of course, we would try to do anything we could to help you."
Larbi stroked the ends of his thin mustache, twisting them upward. He was not above taking the occasional bribe, but he recalled the morning's omen. "Please," he said, holding up his palms. "There's no need." He cleared his throat and added weakly, "I'm happy to serve all teachers. It's just that when so many people want the same thing, it becomes impossible to get all of them the assignment they want."
Tawfiq looked disappointed, and he stared at Larbi for a long minute. "I understand," he said. "That's why I've come to you."
Larbi sighed. He didn't want to disappoint his friend, and anyway, what sense did it make to refuse a favor to a department head in the Surete Nationale? "I'll see what I can do," he said. Moving Tawfiq's niece up the list would require creative handling of the paperwork. He'd have to be discreet.
Afterward, Larbi swiveled in his chair and put his feet on the desk, crossing them at the ankles. He looked out the window at the row of eucalyptus trees outside and thought again about his mother, her benevolent face appearing in his mind's eye. He lit a Marlboro and inhaled slowly. Times were different now. He didn't create the system; he was just getting by, like everyone else. He turned to face his pile of dossiers.
WHEN LARBI GOT HOME that night, there was a nice surprise waiting for him on the console--a rare letter from his son, Nadir, who was studying electrical engineering in Quebec. Larbi stepped inside the living room and sat on one of the leather sofas, moving a white-and-pink silk cushion out of the way. Two years ago, Larbi's daughter, Noura, had taken up silk painting and, besides cushions, had made scarves, handkerchiefs, and watercolors. The results of her labor were scattered around the house. Larbi had thought that she'd taken a serious interest in decorative arts, but it turned out to be nothing more than a high school fad, and all the brushes and bottles of paints she'd insisted on buying were now in a plastic bag somewhere under the kitchen sink.
Larbi opened the letter. These days, Nadir sent only hurried e-mails with scant details of college life. Whenever he wrote real letters, it was to ask his parents for money. This one was no different--he wanted 10,000 dirhams to buy a new laptop. Larbi shook his head. Nadir would probably spend it on CDs or a weekend out of town. But he didn't mind, so long as the boy did well in school, and he always did. Larbi loved to think of his son's future and of the position Nadir would be able to get with an engineering degree, especially one from abroad.
Larbi walked through the corridor to Noura's room. He thought for a moment that she wasn't home, because her stereo wasn't blaring rock music, as it usually did, but he heard voices and so he knocked. Noura opened the door. She wore jeans and a black T-shirt with glittery letters spelling out the name of a rock band. Her hair fell in curly cascades on her shoulders. She looked at her watch. "It's already six-thirty?" she said, sounding surprised.
"Look what I got for you," Larbi said, handing her some magazines he'd bought on his way home.
"Thanks, Papa," Noura said. She took the magazines from him, and when she stepped aside to drop them on her desk he saw her friend, a girl who sat on the chair by the window, her hands folded on her lap. She wore a gray, pilled sweater and an ankle-length denim skirt, and her hair was covered in a headscarf. Noura introduced her as Faten Khatibi, one of her classmates at the university in Rabat. Noura was supposed to have gone to NYU, but her scores on the standardized TOEFL exam were not high enough, and so she had to take a year of English at the public university. She was going to apply again in December. The delay had left her somewhat depressed, and the feeling was compounded by her loneliness--most of her friends from the private French lycee she'd attended had gone on to universities abroad. Larbi stepped into the room and cheerfully extended his hand to Faten, but Faten didn't take it."Pardon me," she said. Her eyes shifted back to Noura and she smiled. Larbi dropped his hand awkwardly by his side. "Well." There was unpleasant pause; Larbi could think of nothing to say. "I'll leave you two alone."
As he went toward the kitchen to get a drink, Larbi heard the key turn in the lock. His wife, Salma, walked in, her leather satchel on one arm and a set of laundered shirts on the other. "Sorry I'm late," she said. "The judge took a long recess." Larbi took the shirts from her, dropping them on a chair in the foyer. He asked her who Noura's friend was. Salma shrugged. "Someone she met at school."
"She's not the type of girl I've seen her with before."
"You mean she's not an enfant gatee?" Salma gave him a little ironic smile. She had little patience with Noura's friends, private-school kids who spent most of their time worrying about their clothes or their cars. Years ago, Salma had disapproved of the idea of Noura's going to a French school, and Larbi himself had occasionally felt guilty that his own daughter was not part of the school system he helped to administer. Yet he had insisted; his daughter had so much potential, and he wanted her to succeed. Surely even an idealist like Salma could understand that.
"I just don't want her to mix with the wrong type," he said.
"She'll be fine," Salma said, giving him that woman-of-the-people look she affected from time to time and which irritated him supremely-- just because she took on several cases every year for free and was active in the Moroccan Association of Human Rights didn't mean she knew any better than Larbi.
2005 by Laila Lalami
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Table of Contents
Contents the trip
Part I: Before the fanatic bus rides acceptance better luck tomorrow
Part II: After the saint the odalisque homecoming the storyteller
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked this book well enough. It wasn't what I had expected after the first chapter. The stories were interesting. I liked how the book was divided into two parts; the story of before they decided to immigrate and then the story of what happened to them after they arrived. It was very well written, but nothing to jump for joy about. I liked the different take on immigration. I am used to reading books about people immigrating to the US, so this was a nice change.
This novel reads like a series of short stories about a handful of Moroccan men and women. The characters are connected only by the fact that they boarded the same illegal boat, bound for what they hoped to be a better life in Spain. Lalami's prose is quiet and economical, but able to create characters that are three dimensional. The reader is given a glimpse into their lives, the hardships they encounter and decisions they make, both on the Moroccan and Spanish sides.
Though set in Morocco, not Mexico, and the body of water crossed is the Mediterranean, not the Rio Grande, the stories of the desperate immigrants told in this book are eerily similar to those of many new Texans. The writing is lovely and the stories are captivating.
I had higher hopes for this book but was gravely disappointed in it.
This young Moroccan-born writer has produced a wonderful debut collection of short stories, set in modern-day Morocco, and Spain. The first half of the book depicts various characters in Morocco who dream of a better life in Spain, just across the Strait of Gibraltar, not even 14 km across the waters. The second half encapsulates the lives of those who have already managed to leave, in search of a better life on the other side, with unfortunately less than desirable results.Lailami provided an authentic voice, detailing the issues young people currently face in the Arab/Muslim world, which I enjoyed. The stories show the lengths people will go to, to secure a better life for themselves and their families, and the challenges Arabs and North Africans face when entering European/ Western countries. The mood throughout the slim volume is gray, and a spurt of color would have been welcome to break the cheerlessness. That said, Lalami is a great writer and the book is a quick worthwhile read. I¿d definitely read more by Lalami given the chance.
First time novelist Lalami has written a beautitul story that is surprisingly detailed for a slim novel of 200 pages. It begins with the crossing from Morocco by four protagonists, an abused wife, a fanatical student, a hustler and a husband seeking decent wages by way of the Strait of Gibraltar for a new life in Spain. The pilot refuses to take them all the way where they are tipped into the ocean and forced to swim only to be met by the waiting authorities as they reach the shore. It is here that the story reverses and we meet each character in turn and what led to their decision to flee. The prospect of drowning takes on a symbolic reference as they are people trapped in oppressive lives and cultures. All too often we hear about ` illegal immigrants¿ and the author has succeeded in giving a human face to her characters where governments always refer to them as illegal in a political construct. Sadly it is the case that for many who choose this option it remains but a dream and ultimately a dangerous pursuit.
Difficult to follow characters throughout book. Pretty much a sad story.
I love Laila Lalami's writing and I really loved the Secret Son. I do enjoy the the picture she paints of the lives and struggles of people in another country and she never seems to pass judgement on her characters. She just shows how they are shaped by circumstances, economics, and family. Although I found this book easy to read I felt the thread which connected the characters stories was a little too thin.
This isn't a large book in any sense of the word, however, it left me with a lot to consider. Don't miss this read.
I love this book. I felt like I learned things about Morocco, a place I've never been. The stories were fulfilling on their own and more fulfilling connected to the first story. I applaud Laila Lalami.
I recently received HOPE AND OTHER DANGEROUS PURSUITS by Laila Lalami as a gift. Lalami shares modern Morocco though interconnecting profiles and the compelling journeys of her characters will intrigue and draw you to them. These fictional characters are very much alive. This remarkable book is a beautiful gift to receive.
So many of us know Laila Lalami through her blog, Moorishgirl.com, which reflects her Moroccan roots by often covering¿and confronting¿literary news relating to the ¿other¿ in our society. Specifically, Lalami has accorded non-Christian and non-white writers the kind of respect and analysis not usually offered in the ¿mainstream¿ press or even most blogs, for that matter. If this were Lalami¿s sole contribution to the literary world, she would have much of which to be proud. But now she brings us her first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill), a collection of interlocking stories, which also reflects her connections to Morocco. The structure of Lalami¿s collection is as elegant as it is powerful. The title story, ¿The Trip,¿ serves as a prologue where she introduces us to the four main characters who will reappear in the eight subsequent stories. It is dark and cold as four Moroccans huddle with twenty-six others in small boat¿a six-meter Zodiac inflatable meant to accommodate eight people¿to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Their hope: to avoid the watchful eye of the authorities as they travel fourteen kilometers to their haven, Spain. Lalami captures with clear and revealing language the brutality of the smugglers and the desperation of their human cargo. The collection is then divided into two parts. In the first, entitled Before, we see what drove Lalami¿s characters to risk their lives to escape Morocco. In these stories, we see the how desperate circumstances must get before one decides to leave home, perhaps forever. In the second part of the collection (entitled After), we see how the lives of our four protagonists change after their desperate voyage across the Strait of Gibraltar. These stories will surprise the reader. We watch as lives get turned inside out with people doing things that they normally wouldn¿t absent distressed circumstances. And in the end, we don¿t know which is more dangerous: the weary acceptance of poverty and brutality or the hope-driven risks people take to make life worth the effort. Lalami wisely doesn¿t offer any answers. Rather, she gives us potent and perfectly-crafted portraits of those who both battle and embrace hope. And she lets us know that the lives of undocumented immigrants can¿t be painted with one, broad stroke their lives are as varied as anyone else¿s. What an auspicious debut this is. One hopes that Lalami will be telling her stories for many years to come. [The full version of this review first appeared in the literary blog, rockslinga.]