Ahlème, a young woman living on the outskirts of Paris, is trying to make a life out of the dreams she brought with her from Algeria and the reality she faces every day. Her father lost his job after an accident at his construction site. Her mother was lost to a massacre in Algeria. And her brother, Foued, boils with adolescent energy and teeters dangerously close to choosing a life of crime.
As she wanders the streets of Paris looking for work, Ahlème negotiates the disparities between her dreams and her life, her youth and her responsibilities, the expectations of those back home and the limitations of life in France.
With the same laugh-out-loud, razor-sharp humor that made Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow an international hit, Some Dream for Fools shows Faïza Guène’s evolution as a novelist and reminds us of her extraordinary talent as she explores what happens to people when a lid is put on their dreams.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
She is the author of Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow.
Read an Excerpt
Big City Cold
IT’S FREEZING IN THIS bled, the wind makes my eyes water and I have to run in place to get warm. I tell myself that I’m not living in the right place, that the climate around here isn’t for me, because in the end, climate’s the only thing that counts and this morning the crazy French cold paralyzes me.
My name is Ahlème and I roam around in the middle of everybody, the ones who run, the ones who beat each other up, are late, argue, make phone calls, the ones who don’t smile, and I see my brothers who, like me, are very cold. I always recognize them, they have something in their eyes that isn’t the same as everybody else, like they want to be invisible, or be somewhere else. But they’re here.
At home, I don’t complain, even when they cut off the heat, or else Papa tells me: “Don’t even talk, you weren’t here for the winter of ’63.” I don’t answer him, in ’63 I wasn’t even born. So I head out and wander around the wonderfully smooth streets of France, I pass rue Joubert where some hookers yell across the street to each other. You could say that these old, wrecked dolls aren’t afraid of the cold anymore. Prostitutes are the climatic exception, location doesn’t matter, they don’t feel anything anymore.
My appointment at the temp agency is at 10:40. Not 10:45. Not 10:30. Everything’s precise in France, every minute counts and I can’t seem to make myself get into the rhythm. I was born on the other side of the sea and the African minute has more than sixty seconds.
On the instructions of M. Miloudi, the adviser at my neighborhood unemployment office, I went to talk to this new place: Interim Plus.
Miloudi, he’s a real veteran. He’s been at the agency for the Insurrection Housing Projects for years and must have seen through every case in the district. He’s pretty efficient. But he’s also always in a hurry. At my interview, he didn’t waste a minute:
“Sit down, young lady . . .”
“Thank you, sir.”
“And next time, mind that you knock before you come in, please.”
“Sorry, sir, I didn’t think about it.”
“I’m telling you for your own good, because that sort of thing could cost you an interview.”
“Good, so let’s get started, no wasting time, we only have twenty minutes ahead of us. You are going to fill out the competency form in front of you, write in the boxes in capital letters and don’t make any spelling mistakes. If there’s a word that makes you hesitate, ask me for the dictionary. You brought your résumé?”
“Yes. Five copies, like you said.”
“Very good. Here’s the paper, fill it out carefully. I’ll be back in five minutes.”
He took a box of kitchen matches and his pack of Marlboros out of his pocket then left the room, leaving me to stare down my destiny. On the desk there were piles of folders, a mess of papers that blocked your sight, they took up all the space on the desk. And above it all, an enormous clock hung on the wall. Every tick of its hands knocked out a sound that reverberated in me as if it were my death knell. All of a sudden I was hot. I was blocked. The five minutes passed like a high-speed train and I hadn’t written anything but my last name, my first name, and my date of birth.
I heard M. Miloudi’s hacking cough in the hallway, he came back into the room.
“So? Where are you? Have you finished?”
“No, I’m not done.”
“But you haven’t filled out anything!” he said as he leaned over the paper.
“I haven’t had enough time.”
“There are lots of people who are waiting for appointments, I have to see other people after you, you saw them in the waiting room. We only have ten minutes left at the most to contact the SREP, because it won’t help at all to go through the AGPA at this time of year, there aren’t any more spots. We can try FAJ, the paid apprenticeship program . . . Why haven’t you filled it out yet? It’s pretty simple.”
“I don’t know what to put in the box marked ‘life objective’”
“Do you have any ideas?”
“But on your résumé, it’s clear that you have a lot of work experience, there has to be something that you liked in all of that.”
“I’ve only had little jobs as a waitress or salesperson. Just to make money, sir, not as part of my life objective.”
“Fine, let’s forget the form, we don’t have time. I’m going to give you the address of our temp agency so you can go while we’re waiting to contact FAJ.”
Johanna, an office worker at Interim Plus, looks about sixteen, has a quivering voice, and speaks like every word hurts her. I realize she’s asking me to fill out a questionnaire; she gives me a pen with their ridiculous office logo on it and tells me to follow her. The mademoiselle is wearing ultra-tight jeans that betray every violation of her Weight Watchers diet and give her the look of an adulterous woman. She points me toward a chair near a small table where I can settle in. I have trouble writing, my fingers are frozen, I struggle to loosen them. It reminds me of when Papa—The Boss, as we call him—used to get home from work. He always needed a little time to open his hands. “It’s from the jackhammer,” he said.
I scratch along, I fill out their boxes, I check things off, I sign my name. Everything is miniscule on their form and their questions are kind of annoying. No, I am not married, I don’t have children, I am not a B-permit cardholder, I haven’t done any higher education, I am not a Cotorep-verified disabled person, I am not French. Where do I find the box marked “My life is a complete failure”? At least with that I could just immediately check yes, and we wouldn’t have to talk about anything else.
In a compassionate tone, Johanna, her jeans pulled so tight they could make her uterus explode, presents my first “interim mission.” It’s funny that they call them missions. It makes these shitty jobs feel like adventures.
She offers me a stock job at Leroy Merlin next Friday evening. I say yes without the smallest hesitation, I really need to work and I would take pretty much anything.
I leave the office all satisfied, proof it doesn’t take much.
Later I head out to meet Linda and Nawel at La Cour de Rome, a bar near the agency over in Saint-Lazare. They’ve been trying to see me for a few weeks and I admit I dodge going out when I’m broke. And then the last few times, the girls have all been glued to their boyfriends and it wears me out, always feeling uncomfortable planted there alone in the middle of them. I’m not far from winning the Third-Wheel Championship title for all Europe and Africa.
The girls are set up in a banquette at the back of the room. I knew it, they’re always like that, I know their old secret smoker tricks by heart. Back in the neighborhood, they even have their own headquarters. They’re always fucking around behind the stadium, lighting one up. Their secret phrase for meeting up is: “Let’s go play some sports.”
As usual, they’re all tricked out. I notice that they’re always classed up and I wonder how they ever find enough time to get dressed, put on makeup, do their hair. Nothing is left to chance, everything matches, is calculated, chosen with care.
The few times I agree to make this kind of effort, it really takes it out of me, it’s too much work. What won’t we chicks do to draw just one nice look or a compliment in our days racked with doubt. And the ones who say that they do themselves all up like this just for their own pleasure, yeah, my eye!
When I get to the girls, they light their cigarettes in perfect unison and welcome me with a warm, smoky hello.
Just to keep things on script, this is followed by a “What’s new?” with a few seconds’ pause afterward to think about an answer before they jump right back into their conversation.
Then comes the inevitable question I always dread.
“And how’re things with the boys?” A quick shake of the head does the trick. They understand right away. I wonder why, whenever they ask this question, they make “boy” plural. It’s hard enough to find one love, why make things even more complicated?
Then, like always, the eternal refrain: “How can a pretty girl like you still be single? It’s because you don’t really want it . . . It’s your fault, you’re too difficult . . . We’ve introduced you to a whole mess of guys, from the beasts to the super-slick, there’s nothing more we can do for you, you’re all closed up.”
I can’t seem to make them understand that my life isn’t as bad as they think, because if everything goes well menopause isn’t going to come tomorrow. But there’s nothing I can do, they’re just going to keep hitting me with losers.
Guys with an IQ of 2, who talk themselves up to no end, all pretentious, guys who are incapable of conversation or who are chronically depressed.
So I manage a magnificent sidestep anyone would be proud of and change the subject—this is my real talent, I’m triple champion of all Africa and Europe at jumping over obstacles and problems.
Actually I think that, like most people, they already have their lives planned out in their heads, all the elements are there, like pieces of a puzzle that are just waiting to be put together. They split their time between work and play, go on vacation to the same place every summer, always buy the same brand of deodorant, have cool families and boyfriends that they have been with forever. Even their boys are “no-fault” guys, the kind I like but would never personally go away with for a weekend. Not one false note. They all come from the same village as the girls, back in the bled, so that’s going to please their parents. You might say that we’re living out a sort of return to incest. At least with your brother, you can be sure that he comes from exactly the same place as you, you can verify it, ask your mother. The girls find this very practical, because if your traditions are different, your families don’t agree about everything; and then it’s complicated when you’re teaching your kids, when you’re not even speaking the same language . . . Me, I say that these are just ridiculous details, and you shouldn’t build a home on such practical questions.
Nawel just came back from vacation, she was in Algeria with her father’s family, and I mentioned that she lost lots of weight, at least ten pounds.
“Oh yeah? I really got skinny?”
“You’re practically dried up. I almost feel sorry for you, miskina.”
“It’s the back-to-the-bled effect.”
“The vacation diet, right?”
“Yeah, that’s right. . . . The heat, the stuffed green beans at every meal, your grandmother’s jokes, those Chilean soap operas. . . . Of course you lose weight.”
“But how did you make it? Two months is plenty in the bled, I would have been completely depressed . . .” I asked Nawel, intrigued.
“Eh, it just passes. The only thing that was a little harsh was that on the TV there was only one channel. Even Mr. Bean is censored there.”
“At least that means you don’t have to put up with that annoying moment when the whole group is in front of the TV and BAM! there’s a hot sex scene or an ad for douche. Then, the dad starts coughing and you have to be quick, take the remote, and shut that thing right off. This is why now, at my house, we have a satellite dish. It saves us all the time because on French television they love to put naked women all over the screen at the drop of a hat.”
“And things were good with your family?”
“My cheap-ass family . . . The first week they loved us because the suitcases were packed full. As soon as we passed out all the gifts, it was over, we didn’t rate with them at all. I told my mother: ‘Next summer, I swear on the Koran, we’d better ask that discount store Tati to be our corporate sponsor.’”
Later it’s time to catch up on the neighborhood gossip with Linda.com. She’s a force of nature, a true talker. Linda, she knows what’s happening with everyone, I don’t know how she does it, sometimes she even knows people’s stories before they know themselves.
“Do you know Tony Lopez?”
“No, who is he?”
“Come on, he’s the new guy on sixteen.”
“No, the tall brunet. He works at Midas.”
“Yeah, and what about him?”
“He’s going out with Gwendoline!”
“The little one? The redhead in your building?”
“No, not her. The anorexic, the one who’s covered with unfinished tattoos. Nawel, you have to know who she is.”
“Yeah, I know the one, I see her on the bus every time I go to work. Hey maybe you know something that’s always intrigued me, do you know why she’s never finished one of her tattoos?”
“How is she supposed to know that?” I said naively.
“No, no, I know?=”
“Fuck, you freak me out, you’re a real professional gossip you know? Tell us.”
“She was with this really shady guy before, a tattoo artist. And that’s it. He started all these tattoos on her and he never finished them before he dumped her for another girl.”
“A true bastard. He could have at least finished the job.”
“Okay, so the anorexic is going out with Tony Lopez, and what else?”
“And he wanted to break up with her. According to my sources, it’s because he was messing around with the accountant at Midas. And Gwendoline was so crazy for him, she gave him all this psychological pressure to stay with her. So he ended up staying with her but he made her pay . . .”
“What? Spill! Stop stringing us along.”
“She’s knocked up, the little thing. Pregnant up to her eyeballs. Crazy right?”
And there you go, every time she ends with “Crazy right?”
She told us two or three stories that had to be whispered before she left us with a smile that made everyone wonder what our secrets were and that shields me from the outside world and its cold.
The platform is black with the crowds, there are service disruptions on the line. One train in four, I think, at least that’s what they said on the radio.
So I’m forced up against the pole in this car. There’s no air in the RER, everyone’s pushing me, blocking me in. The train sweats and me, I feel smothered by all these sad silhouettes, all looking for a little color. You could say that all the air in Africa wouldn’t be enough. They’re phantoms, they’re sick, contaminated by sadness.
Me, I’m going back to Ivry to see my neighbor, Auntie Mariatou, and her children. My asthmatic RER will cough me up in my zone where it’s even colder. There are some days like that where you don’t know anymore where you’re going, you feel like you don’t have any luck at all, and that’s just too bad. It’s true that it’s sad, but fortunately, at the end, there’s always this little thing that gets us up in the morning. No guarantee, but you think that one day, one day it will be better. Like Auntie says: “The most beautiful stories are the ones that start badly.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This slight book, narrated in relentlessly hip first person, engages with the lives of Algerian immigrants in the suburbs of Paris. Combining a conventional story of young love and the emotionally distant bewilderment of cultural dislocation, this modern mash-up presents an interesting perspective but ultimately doesn't have much to say.