Thursday, November 09, 2006

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Guene

Language: English,Translator:Adams, Sarah

Publisher:Harvest Books

Subject:General Fiction/Immigrants/France

Publication Date: July 2006


When riots broke out in Paris in October and November of 2005, I found myself wondering, why??? What were these groups of youth upset about? What were the projects like? Who lives there? What are their living conditions? How much welfare or social assistance do these residents get? How safe is it? What does the future look like for these young men and women, and while Faiza Guene's book "Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow" about a 15-year old Moroccan girl living in an impoverished Paris suburb, does help to answer some of these questions, the book has also made me go on to ask more questions,prompting further exploration and research into the Paris ghettos - don't
you love books that do that to you?

Doria is a 15-year old Moroccan girl living with her mother in the projects in a suburb of Paris. Her father, as is fairly common among the Arab-French immigrant families living there, has left the mother to marry someone back in the village. To make ends meet, Doria's mother becomes a cleaning lady at a motel where "she flushes the toilet after rich folks, all to be paid three times zero" and where the supervisor couldn't even be bothered to learn her name (he calls all Arab women "Fatma").

Employing a narrative style which can best be described as 'stream of consiciousness', the book reads like a diary (short chapters to mimic diary entries) showing us what life is like for an isolated second -generation Arab immigrant in France thorugh the eyes of precocious Doria. With bravado, sardonic humor and a healthy dose of cyniscism and rage, she tries to maneuver her way in a world filled with social workers with an "I'm better than you" attitude, psychiatrists, unfriendly neighbors, indifferent teachers and hard-working friends.

Many reviewers have chosen to describe this book as a sweet, coming- of- age story, infact, Newsweek describes it as "a lighthearted bonbon of a book", but I disagree, there is a sharp undercurrent of anger against France's social welfare sytem that drives this book and I think the author meant for us to sit up and take notice of the situation of the immigrant youth in the suburbs of describe it as "light-hearted" simply means to dismiss their cause. However the book also notes some of the positives of the system and fortunately the novel ends on an optimisitic note.

Faiza Guene, is the daughter of Algerian immigrants who grew up in a similar public housing project outside Paris, thus her character sketches are probably based on people she knew and interacted with everyday. Writing this novel when she was only 19 she offers us a peek into a world of hopelessness and poverty only a short ride away from the chic boutiques and sidewalk cafes of uptown Paris. The book has been translated from verlan ( the language used by Arab-French people in the projects) by Sarah Walker who has done a terrific job adapting it to urban street language found in western countries.

This book will appeal to anyone over 14 I should think. I plan on giving it to my 15-year old daughter to read, i can't wait to see how it grabs her.

Thanks to Nomadica for recommeding this book!


Susan in Italy said...

One of the sad things about those riots was that many people in downtown Paris knew nothing about why those kids would become so destructive. It seems like the dire situation in the banlieus was not news until then. When France won the World Cup in 1998 the multicultural soccer team became a symbol of the multiethnic "success" of France. A lot of people now see that as false.

hellomelissa said...

this book must have appealed to the anthropologist in you! speaking of the anger among youth in paris reminds me of angela's ordeal... maybe she could shed even more light on this issue.

jenclair said...

From your description, the term "lighthearted" does seem dismissive; however, it may also mean that more people will read it and perhaps discover more than they intended.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Susan

Such a pity that the people in the banlieus had to resort to so much violence and destruction before the French government could be persuaded to take notice of their living and social conditions. Multiculturalism has never been France's strong suit, which is surprising when you consider that they have one of the largest number of immigrants of any European state.

Hi, Melissa

*big grin* You know me so well. Recently I have had my anthropologist hat on a lot! I ought to do something concrete with the big passion I have for this subject, no?

I'm hoping Angela will share her insights. I am looking forward to her comments.

Hi, jenclair

You do have a point - I'm hoping that a lot of people will be persuaded to read the book. It is light but not exactly lighthearted.

Cassiopeia Rises said...

Another great post my friend. I too would like to read this book . Oh, what TBR list I am gathering. Hope my Hub will let me buy them
I remember reading about the riots and felt ashamed. I worry it will happen hear. I should say I was worried but after Nov 7th. I worry no more. We cut Bush's arrogant ways. He is a limping lame duck!!!!
:-) Hooray!
Just want to say I am so glad you read my poem and liked it. I had a hard time with it. I wanted to use my own drawing but could not download in time.
Keep up the great reviews Lotus. You fill me with so many different views of this world of ours.


Lotus Reads said...

Awwww, Beloved, thank you for all the wonderful things you say, we've had similar tastes right from our bookcrossing days, haven't we? :)

Beenzzz said...

This looks like a great book. What an interesting topic too.... the diaspora experience. You know how much I love this. Coming of age books are best!

equiano said...

I suspect I am one of those you accuse of describing the book as light :) I defend myself by saying that stylistically it IS an easy read (you could take it on a beach holiday, no problem). I agree with you completely that Guene does a great job of capturing life for people living in the banlieues, and her teenage perspective is wonderfully consistent. Hope your daughter enjoys it!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Beenzzz

Yes they are, aren't they? Some reviewers have described this as a 'Catcher in the Rye' but I think they tend to do that anytime an angst-driven teen is the protagonist of a story!

Hi, equiano

Oops, hope you weren't the author of the Newsweek review - the one I quoted from! ;) No, I know what you mean, it is an easy read, but it sure packs a punch. BTW, I am so enjoying your blog!

Asha said...

Another gem from you, or your reviews rather Lotus! Wish I had time sit and just read and read and read!!:))

Lotus Reads said...

Asha, I'm half afraid that if you take to reading full time you might not be able to share all those wonderful recipes with us! :)

Unknown said...

Wow, living in a Paris suburb last year when these riots broke out was scary! I remember one of the dorms where I lived was burned in the middle of the night while people were in there. And I also remember when two cars explodes outside my window at 5 a.m. (when cars burn, they explode when the fire reaches the gast tank-for some reason it didn't register when it happened).

All of this prompted me to ask my "white French" French friends what was going on. Their answers were shocking and disappointing because they generally believed that is was just a bunch of thugs burning cars for fun (an initial report stated that as many as 70 percent of the cars that burned were burned by the owners for the insurance money).

But as an outsider, and perhaps as an American, everything that was happening was more upsetting. My French was really bad at the time, so it wasn't as if I could go out in the streets and ask people what was happening, so I had to ask my students. Most of my students grew up in the banlieue and were of Arabic, Morrocan, North African decent and there answers were a little more insightful.

The people from previous French colonies are not really "French." The "real French" don't consider these people as French although their countries were colonized by the French and many of them are 3rd or 4th generation whose parents and grandparents were born in France. They are still North African or Morrocan, etc. So the lines of discrimination are legally and socially drawn. It is no wonder that these people feel like the laws of France do not apply to them....they aren't really French according to the society in which they live.

I don't know, but I think this is why it happened and why it still continues. It is true, Arabic looking people do get harrassed by the police more often then others and even my some of my friends make the distinction between the French French folks and French-Arabic folks.

Lotus Reads said...

Angela thanks so much for your insights into the riots. It is quite shocking that the native French (the whites) didn't even realize how marginalized the French-Arabic youth felt until the riots. It is very dangerous to live in such ignorance. Have things improved for them (the people in the banlieus) since the riots?

Lisa Johnson said...

This book looks really good. I think I heard about it a few months ago, but forgot to follow-up. Thanks for reminding me.

I remember hearing about the riots and not being too surprised. Desperate people do desperate things. If you feel like you have nothing to lose, then nothing really matters. I think it's similar to what is happening all over the world. It's just popping up in places where it might not normally be expected.

Unknown said...

Honestly, it isn't a color issue, because there are black french people...French people just generally don't like non-French people and Arabic-French people are non-French in these people's minds.

As far as I can tell, the French government is doing their best to ship these people out of the country. They just passed a lot of laws concerning them.

je m'amuse said...

I also enjoyed this book. It was refreshing to read a French book with a different worldview.

Thanks for not only visiting my blog, but for leaving a comment linking me to your wonderful world of reading. I am quite impressed!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Anali!

Lovely to see you here! Yes, I think you summed it up quite nicely, it is the act of desperate people, ones who feel they have few or no options left to them...

Hi, Angela

Thanks for the clarification, you have assisted so much in helping me understand the contentious social issue at the heart of this book. I shall be keeping an eye out for news tidbits on on how France deals with this issue in the future.

Hi, J'm amuse!

Love your blogger ID and your blog. Hope you get back to reviewing soon and thanks so much for the nice comment!

Saaleha said...

my comment didn't come through the last time around. Anyway I heard of this one before. Also selling by the name Just Like Tomorrow. Will read sooon!

ML said...

This looks like a really interesting book! I agree, it doesn't seem like a sweet coming of age book. It's seems much more serious.

nomadica said...

hi! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
i hope your daughter gets to read it as well. faiza guene is still so young; i hope she has many more wonderful books to write in the future!

a.c.t. said...

Hi Lotus. I googled Faïza Guène as I just read about her book on The Guardian website and your review was on the first page! Congratulations, your site looks great. I was reading about a new French film about an Algerian family in France called 'La Graine et le mulet' when I came across this author - sounds like an interesting book.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick comment on verlan. To say that the book was translated from "verlan" is a little misleading. It would be tough to write an entire paragraph, let alone an entire book in verlan. SOME verlan is used in the book but overall the novel is written in French. Yes, it is casual French, FULL of slang, and it is great fun to read. However, I'm not sure you can label "verlan" as a language at all.