Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hope And Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami

# Hardcover: 208 pages

# Publisher: Algonquin Books (October 7, 2005)

# Laila Lalami's Literary Blog: Moorish Girl

In honor of World Refugee Day (20th June) I thought I would read Laila Lalami's (Moorish Girl) beautiful little novel, "Hope And Other Dangerous Pursuits". Strictly speaking the characters in this book are not refugees as much as they are desperate people, who for mostly economic reasons, decide to make the perilous and illegal journey by boat (a glorified raft, operated by unscrupulous smugglers) from Morocco over the Strait of Gibraltar and into Spain with stars in their eyes, fervently hoping and praying that they will make it safely into the "land of milk and honey"

The book opens with the collective narrative of a group of about 30 people people on a boat meant for about 8 persons,heading for Tarifa on the coast of Spain, but in the chapters that follow Lalami tells us the individual stories of four of the main characters on the boat, their lives in Morocco and why they chose emigration as a way out and what happens after they return from Spain. There is Faten, a devout Muslim teenager but who finds it difficult to study and hence sees herself at having no prospects; Murad, an unofficial tour guide who, try as he might can never make enough money from his trade because there are more guides than tourists in Morocco; Halima, a mother of three from Casablanca who has an abusive drunkard for a husband and finally Aziz, a carpenter who loves his wife and family but sacrifices all of that to go to, what he thinks, are greener pastures.

I really liked that the author devoted more time to the characters, their lives, their hopes and dreams rather than to the journey itself. I also think she does a remarkable job of conveying the sights,sounds and even the culture of Morocco without taking away from the story which is about the fortunes of this small group of people.

While their journey to hope may have taken place along the Strait of Gibraltar, it could have so easily have been the Rio Grande, because the desperate situation of these Moroccon migrants are eerily similar to the undocumented Mexican migrants who turn up in droves on the borders of the US every day. There is no doubt that wanting to make a better life for oneself, no matter how perilous the cost, is a universal desire and intrinsic human quality.

In closing, I would say this book, although it is not intended to be a political one, does shed light on the poverty, the hardships and unemployment in Morocco which forces its people to risk their lives in the search for a better place to live, also, the wonderful characters that she has crafted has helped put a face, to a group of people the media and its readers normally clump together under the general "illegal aliens" title.

I wonder if Ms. Lalami will give us a book that explores the lives of these migrants in their new homes in Spain. I would surely like to know if life is indeed better for them once they get there? Do they achieve the economic success they have their hearts set upon? Are they allowed to become part of the Spanish society? The fact that I care to know all of that shows that I truly was touched by this book - I think you will be too.

footnote: According to the Christian Science Monitor, Spain has been seeing an unprecedented number of migrants from Africa in recent months and has requested the EU to help out as the large numbers of illegal migrants have threatened to overwhelm the resources of national police and local aid workers. Eight countries have agreed to assist Spain in sending boats, planes, and rapid-response teams to patrol the waters off Morocco, Mauritania, and Senegal...

Also, please visit the PBS link to learn more about human trafficking the world over, but in particular, Morocco.


Cassiopeia Rises said...

Lotus I will try and get the book when it comes out. If Amazon .com has it I will pre-order the novel This way you too can read it when you come home. Well what I mean is after I read it, I'll give it to you. It wont be out yet.
Again let me know before you leave.

Lotus Reads said...

Which book are you talking about Beloved? And, ofcourse, I will let you know before I leave. Thanks for stopping by.

paris parfait said...

Oh I have this book too and I read Laila's website regularly. So many powerful stories of refugees and immigrants out there - Laila's website does a good job of keeping up with related events. Thanks for your lovely comment on my blog. Now that I've found you, I'll be back to read more!

Lotus Reads said...

Welcome, ParisParfait and yes, please do visit again. I love Laila's book recommendations. She has her finger on the pulse of the literary scene, especially that of the Middle East and Africa. I'm reading another one of her suggestions at the moment - The Caged Virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A very insightful read.

Di Mackey said...

Oh, i saw this book on 'The View from Fez' blog and loved the sound of it. Thanks for reviewing it :)

Lotus Reads said...

You're welcome, wandering woman. Thanks for the heads up on "The View From Fez", sounds like an interesting blog, I will have to visit.