Fiction — print. Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2010. 305 pgs. Purchased.
Lalami returns with her debut novel (not to be confused with her first book — a collection of short stories entitled Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits) and examines what propels someone to become a fundamentalist Muslim suicide bomber. In the case of Youssef El Mekki, discovery of his rich father’s existence, acceptance by that father, and then unexplainable rejection propels him into taking on the homicidal mission. For Youssef, though, there are more forces (and people) are play in his tale, and Lalami examines the cultural and economic aspects of Morocco that influence Youssef’s decision.
The commentary on the life of poor young men in Casablanca, Morocco and the desperation they fee draws attention to why so many of them turn to fundamentalist Islamic sects. The novel also explores the role of women as it follows the life of Youssef’s half sister, who studies in the United States and lives with a non-Muslim man before marriage, and that of Youssef’s mother, who feel in love with a married man and spent her whole life paying for it.
Lalami’s first book and her second are quite different both in length, style, focus, and depth, but despite all this differences, I still really enjoyed Secret Son. Lalami’s writings are hauntingly beautiful in their simplicity and sophistication, and each one of her stories has become one I cannot stop reading. The hope and the frustrations of the characters are felt completely, and I loved the ending of the novel despite my normal dislike for open ended novels. Unlike her collection of short stories, Lalami doesn’t clearly establish the narrator as she switches from one point of view to another, but rather does it in a subtle way that retraces the stories already told with new insight and new depth. It is up to you to catch these interesting discrepancies between the chapters of the narrative.