In her debut novel, Lalami introduces us to four Moroccans as they attempt to illegal cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain — Murad, Halima, Azziz, and Faten. The novel begins with the four illegal immigrants being forced out of the boat that promised to take them to the shore and into the icy, cold Mediterranean Sea. Each one is told to swim before the Spanish guard is alerted to their presence and meets them at the shore.

Part I covers the “before”, the reasons why these four people have payed large sums of money to smuggle themselves into Spain. Muard is a man who loves languages and reading, but his college degree has reduced him to directing tourists around Tangier. Fleeing her drunken husband, poverty, and a the chance that a divorce would lead to her losing the rights to her children, Halima brings her three children along with her. Aziz is a man stuck in a cycle of joblessness, who must leave his devoted wife to find work in Spain. Religious fanatic Faten has to leave after the father of her friend calls in a favor and gets her expelled from university. Part II covers the “after”, what happens to all of these people after they’re picked up on the shore of Spain.

The structure of this novel is different from other novels that utilize flashbacks as it reads more like a collection of short stories rather than one complete narrative. Sitting in the boat is what entwines these characters; they have no interactions with one another before finding themselves swimming across the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s as though the characters are there own lines that meet at one point and them diverge from that point, from each other. Each character peels back the proverbial curtain to expose a small part of modern Morocco, of illegal immigration, of life in diaspora, and I adored this novel.

Book Mentioned:

  • Lalami, Laila. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005. Print. 195 pgs. ISBN: 073946700X. Source: PaperBackSwap.
Book Cover © Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Retrieved: April 23, 2010.
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