Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits," by Laila Lalami

"Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits,"provides a window on a different world.

It is a finely crafted book written by a woman who takes both her literature and her homeland seriously.

You have to care about Morocco and you have to care about the plight that millions of people in the Third World endure to care about this book also - and you should.

"Hope" provides us with a insider's understanding of how countries battling with the onslaught of Western modernity - the aspirations it inflames and the limitations it imposes - transform and mutate in ways independent of governmental policy and intention. It personalizes the headlines one sees about immigrants killed in their efforts to reach "the world" (in this case Spain, but probably relevant to Haitians hoping to reach Florida).

This is what literature does better than anything else, creates characters through which we can actually "live" the meaning of news reports and Ms. Lalami achieves it with this book.

It fascinatingly details the battle (and the embracing) of sectarian Muslim thought in the Middle East and North Africa: the religiously pure and doctrinaire Faten exercises a death grip on a westernized middle-class friend only to be chased from her country to Spain, where she becomes a prostitute fulfilling the Arab Harem fantasies of Spanish johns.

The men in "Hope" struggle with a loss of identity and roots as they ponder the difficult launch northward and into the industrial world. They struggle with imposed, idle lives of quiet desperation and apply their good, but inapplicable, educations to piquant and humorous observations of tourists in search of a Morocco that can only be found in books or with the help of a guide adept at moving aside the cobwebs of the past.

All in all, easy to read and engaging.

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