I just finished reading Laila Lalami’s book of short stories entitled Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Her novel follows four desperate people who endure a modern Morocco, offering an authentic look at the Muslum immigrant experience today.
For reasons as different as the lives they leave behind, four Muslims travel illegally across the Strait of Gibraltar in an inflatable boat headed for Spain. Each short story dives into the reasons they each have for risking their lives.
Murad can’t get a job and so he takes the risk, which includes a hefty fee to the organizers of the inflatable which takes them to Spain’s shores. If they don’t in fact make it, there’s no refund on their money, yet everyone endures and if they’re sent back to Morocco, they save up the money and try again in hopes for a better life. He dreams of a better life and it’s worth it, he tells himself.
Murad doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life picking oranges and tomatoes, but he’ll find a real job, he thinks, where he can use his training. He speaks English and Spanish fluently, he thinks, he’s different, he thinks. He’s not like the other harraga. When he doesn’t make it and is sent back, he thinks of how he will prevail on his mother to sell her gold bracelets to pay for another trip. And next time, he dreams, he’ll make it.
Larbi, a local diplomat, has a daughter Noura who starts spending time with a girl named Faten who she is studying with at the university of Rabat. He learns that his daughter is reading Ma’alim fi Ttariq by Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian dissident and member of the Muslim Brotherhood and is sure that it is the influence of her friend Faten who he doesn’t trust. It doesn’t take long before Noura becomes religious and starts touting with vigor that God’s commandments are true for all time and if you disagree with the hijab, you’re disagreeing with God. And, she starts wearing it, masking herself from society, and not long after, she opts not to go to university but to stay local and get a job teaching. Faten is caught cheating and Larbi uses it as an excuse to get her ousted from school and away from closer contact and influence to his daughter. But it’s too late.
Halima is continuously beaten up by her husband Maati, yet her mother doesn’t support her, certain that its something Halima has done wrong to warrant it. Her story is of her journey to a judge with money to divorce her husband, only to back out because she felt the system was corrupted, she’d lose her money but not get to keep her children. Not only does her husband beat her, but spends money that should be used to support his family.
After losing his job, she gets another job and moves the children to a small flat away from him until he finally comes after her for one final beating before leaving her in peace. Although she has brothers in France, there’s not much hope for her to emigrate and yet, she can’t stop thinking about her future. SO, she tries, and she and her children nearly drown in their attempt. After she returns, she took a room in a slum outside the city and unable to find a job, she joined the hordes of day workers at the market, squatting on the dirt road, waiting for a nod from someone who needed laundry washed or spring cleaning done.
Aziz, who can’t find a job locally and is trying to support a wife, decides that his only option is Spain. After a long treacherous boat ride across the Straits and getting caught, he returned to an even dire situation where he has to once again, save the money to embark on yet another journey. This time he makes it and the story talks about his return home five years later, the first time he sees his wife since his departure. Since then, his father has passed away and his aging, weathered mother is on heart medication. His wife too has aged, leading a stressful life, working from paycheck to paycheck despite the fact that Aziz has managed to send money home every month from his restaurant job.
After he returns, he realizes he has gotten used to a different life, a more modern life and it’s hard to imagine his conservative wife with him in Spain, yet he feels he doesn’t have enough money to return and stay. He has gotten used to life in Madrid and sees that he has quickly become bored with life in Casablanca during his 10 day stay. He returns secretly knowing he doesn’t want to return leaving his wife in tears who is longing for their reunion and will sit tight until she hears from him about her papers. Life on hold.
The stories are riveting yet sad, and while there is no humor or joy in these people’s lives, it is an authentic truth of what immigrants go through today.