It was an easy read that took me only a day to get through, mainly because I was so enticed by the story that I didn’t want to take a break from it. Laila Lalami is like a next-generation Fatima Mernissi (transformed into a fiction writer), continuing the tradition of talented, liberal, Moroccan female writers, who know both how to tell a good story and to poignantly analyze the underlying societal issues and questions of her country. There are also strong parallels to be drawn with Alaa Al-Aswany’s “The Yacoubian Building,” which provides the same kind of critique-through-fiction of very much similar societal issues, but in Egypt instead of Morocco. Some parallels could also be drawn with parts of Khaled Hoseeini’s novels about Afghanistan, especially the secret/illegitimate son or daughter concept. I am definitely going to ask my friend for Lalami’s other book, “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.”
On the downside, despite Lalami’s acclaim abroad, I was a bit surprised when I mentioned her to some Moroccan friends and found that only one had heard of her. My more traditional host family definitely hasn’t heard of her. It’s also interesting that she chose to write in English, unlike Al-Aswany who wrote in Arabic. And I wonder why Lalami’s books have only been translated into French and not to Arabic. Maybe the Arabic translation is forthcoming? Who knows?
1. Morocco: Laila Lalami, Secret Son
2. Morocco: Fatima Mernissi, Tales of a Harem Girlhood
3. Egypt: Alaa Al-Aswany, The Youcobian Building
4. Afghanistan: Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner