Genre: Literary fiction
Page #: 291
Published in: 2009
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Raised by his mother in a one-room house in the slums of Casablanca, Youssef El Mekki has always had big dreams of living another life in another world. Suddenly his dreams are within reach when he discovers that his father—whom he’d been led to believe was dead—is very much alive. A wealthy businessman, he seems eager to give his son a new start. Youssef leaves his mother behind to live a life of luxury, until a reversal of fortune sends him back to the streets and his childhood friends. Trapped once again by his class and painfully aware of the limitations of his prospects, he becomes easy prey for a fringe Islamic group.
In the spirit of The Inheritance of Loss and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Laila Lalami’s debut novel looks at the struggle for identity, the need for love and family, and the desperation that grips ordinary lives in a world divided by class, politics, and religion.
I was really looking forward to reading this novel for my Topics in World Literature class because I haven’t read a lot of fiction from the Middle East. But, if I could describe this book in only one word, I would say that it is frustrating.
Youssef is a college student in Morocco studying English. He is plagued by thoughts of his father, whom he has never met. After his mother reveals that his father isn’t dead after all, Youssef just has to meet him. Meeting with his father starts out better than he could have ever imagined; now he has a job and a home, in addition to a relationship with his father. However, after all of that is torn away from him, Youssef believes there’s nothing left for him outside of the radical Islamic group that has rooted itself in his neighborhood.
Given the current political climate, I think this book is really important in understanding perspectives outside of the stereotypical American narrative. It shows the full story. So often, all we see is the cardboard narrative fed to us by the media. This book shows us the human behind the cut out.
However, everything felt very unresolved to me. The book brought up a lot of plot lines involving Youssef’s father and his father’s “official” family that were not addressed by the end of the novel. The ending left me feeling frustrated and it honestly kind of seemed pointless to me. I found myself asking why I had even finished the book in the first place.
While I was not satisfied with the ending, I do think the larger implications of the book make it worth reading.