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Hardcover Hope & Other Dangerous Pursuits Book

ISBN: 1565124936

ISBN13: 9781565124936

Hope & Other Dangerous Pursuits

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Book Overview

"A dream of a debut, by turns troubling and glorious, angry and wise." --Junot Diaz Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits evokes the grit and enduring grace that is modern Morocco. As four Moroccans illegally cross the Strait of Gibraltar in an inflatable boat headed for Spain, author Laila Lalami asks, What has driven them to risk their lives? And will the rewards prove to be worth the danger? There's Murad, a gentle, unemployed man who's been reduced...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Classic in waiting

On Monday night, I had the pleasure of attending a reading of Laila Lalami's first novel, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. I bought a copy at the reading, opened it in the subway on the way home, and finished it at two in the morning on a work night. It's that kind of book. The book can best be described as four related stories of Moroccan emigration, a phenomenon that has created a diaspora of more than three million during the past two generations. At the beginning, the four characters are together on a boat in which they are being smuggled across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain. The succeeding chapters show the events that brought each of them to this point, and their lives after. The crossing is their only point of contact; they all came to it from different places, and it changes each of them in different ways. HODP will no doubt be compared most often to other Middle Eastern stories or novels of emigration. As I was reading, however, I was reminded most powerfully of Thornton Wilder's Bridge of San Luis Rey, the story of a Franciscan monk's search for common threads among the lives of the victims in an 18th-century Peruvian bridge collapse. The monk's search is inspired by his hope of discovering divine providence, but it ultimately costs him both his faith and his life. As in Wilder's story, the lives of the characters in HODP connect in a single place. The difference is that Lalami's characters survive their ordeal, albeit forever changed, and their lives diverge in both directions. They tell their own stories. There is no narrator to play the part of Brother Juniper in tying their lives together, and the reader must complete that task himself. The author, in 195 pages, provides the stories from which the investigation can be done, and the common threads discerned. But the connection is ultimately the same: the characters' presence at a single place and time is the result of choices that are dictated as much by circumstances and chance as by their own will. Lalami's characters are vulnerable people in a precarious country, and accidents of faith, marriage, unemployment or simply making the wrong enemies lead to their being cast from the existence they knew. Some return to find a more stable place; others find it elsewhere, or not at all. But there is very little of providence in what brings these four characters, and millions of others, to European shores.

An Unforgettable Glimpse Into Morocco

What an excellent book this is. Tied billiantly together by the opening chapter ("The Trip"), this collection (novel in stories?) reveals the lives of four characters before and after their attempt to emigrate from Morocco to Spain. "Characters" scarcely feels like the right word here, though; these people (Murad, Aziz, Faten, Halima) are rendered in such detail, emotionally more than physically, that they seem real, and their respective plights seem absolutely real. Faten is a good example. We glimpse her first in "The Trip" but then see her more clearly in "The Fanatic," in which she is a devout college girl wearing hijab and persuading other girls to follow her example. Later, in the fabulous story "Odalisque," she has managed to get to Spain but has to work as a prostitute to support herself. The reader knows this isn't the real Faten, and comes to understand that the fanatic wasn't the real Faten either, and the resulting portrait of a struggling women from her circumstances is chillingly vivid and credible. One of the most rewarding books I've read in a long time.

Once There Was and There Was Not

Laila Lalami's debut Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits is an exquisitely written linked collection. I know Laila from her blog. So I know this is her first book and I know the steps she has taken to get here, but even so, as I read this book, it was difficult to believe that it was a debut. The writing, to me, seems incredibly seasoned--clean, efficient, evocative. Essentially, I forgot that this was Laila writing within the first few words and, instead, fell into the world as it was written. The protagonists of these stories are Moroccans looking for a different (I would say better life but I'm not sure that's true--many of them, though anxious to get across the Strait of Gibraltar, are fearful of what life on the other side will hold) life in Spain. Ironically, the one person who actually makes it without being deported back to Morocco, does so at great personal expense. She makes her living as a protitute, leaving behind her morals and beliefs. She is, essentially, lost. My favorite character is Halima, who tries to leave Morocco in order to save herself and her children from her husband. Instead, she almost loses everything, except that her young son saves the family from drowning in the frigid waters. It is because of this that she believes he may be special, but the truth is that it is she and her enduring hope which make her the special one--the survivor, the saint. The book ends with another favorite character, Murad, the scholar, the writer. It is from him, the storyteller, that we learn the essence of this book: His father started every story with "Kan, ya ma kan," "Once there was and there was not." The timeless opening line was fitting, it seemed to him, to the state he found himself in now, unable to ascertain whether the tales he remembered were real or figments of his imagination. It is that sense of rebirth, creation, crawling from the water into a new world that proves itself unreal, only to be sent back and to begin again--to forget and to remember, but to always be present and to always hope, no matter what the consequences. And what we learn is that this book is not only about Moroccans looking to escape to a different life, but about all of us who have hopes, who wish to overcome. It is universal. A beautiful debut. Read it.

An Auspicious Debut

So many of us know Laila Lalami through her blog,, which reflects her Moroccan roots by often covering-and confronting-literary news relating to the "other" in our society. Specifically, Lalami has accorded non-Christian and non-white writers the kind of respect and analysis not usually offered in the "mainstream" press or even most blogs, for that matter. If this were Lalami's sole contribution to the literary world, she would have much of which to be proud. But now she brings us her first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill), a collection of interlocking stories, which also reflects her connections to Morocco. The structure of Lalami's collection is as elegant as it is powerful. The title story, "The Trip," serves as a prologue where she introduces us to the four main characters who will reappear in the eight subsequent stories. It is dark and cold as four Moroccans huddle with twenty-six others in small boat-a six-meter Zodiac inflatable meant to accommodate eight people-to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Their hope: to avoid the watchful eye of the authorities as they travel fourteen kilometers to their haven, Spain. Lalami captures with clear and revealing language the brutality of the smugglers and the desperation of their human cargo. The collection is then divided into two parts. In the first, entitled Before, we see what drove Lalami's characters to risk their lives to escape Morocco. In these stories, we see the how desperate circumstances must get before one decides to leave home, perhaps forever. In the second part of the collection (entitled After), we see how the lives of our four protagonists change after their desperate voyage across the Strait of Gibraltar. These stories will surprise the reader. We watch as lives get turned inside out with people doing things that they normally wouldn't absent distressed circumstances. And in the end, we don't know which is more dangerous: the weary acceptance of poverty and brutality or the hope-driven risks people take to make life worth the effort. Lalami wisely doesn't offer any answers. Rather, she gives us potent and perfectly-crafted portraits of those who both battle and embrace hope. And she lets us know that the lives of undocumented immigrants can't be painted with one, broad stroke their lives are as varied as anyone else's. What an auspicious debut this is. One hopes that Lalami will be telling her stories for many years to come. [The full version of this review first appeared in the literary blog, rockslinga.]

Little book, big impact

If you're a writer and you've tried to sell a book, maybe you've heard this: Story collections don't sell. Make it a novel. Make it 250 pages, maybe 300. Put the story in chronological order. Bring it to closure. Imagine a publisher willing to break these rules and allow the writer to publish their work as it evolved naturally? [...] (Algonquin, October 2005) is 195 glorious pages of inter-linked stories told in her third language. The beauty and brilliance of this collection is in its unique shape. It begins with The Trip, and a raft full of Moroccans fleeing their home land for Spain. The strangers have saved and borrowed for the illegal ride and, when the shoreline is in sight, are abruptly thrown from the boat (the boat's driver doesn't want to get caught). Not all are swimmers, and they know all the commotion in the water will bring the Spanish Customs officials. It's chaos, and I'm pulled in, wondering, Who would risk such a thing? The stories are then organized into two sections: Before and After. In the first set, we follow four individuals before they left Morocco to discover their very personal reasons for fleeing their current lives. There is teenage Faten Khatibi, who her wealthy friend's parents consider a fanatic because she's convinced their daughter Noura to wear the hijab and quote from the Qu'ran. Halima Bouhamsa, living in the slums, hopes for a divorce from her abusive husband that won't result in losing custody of her children. Aziz Ammor, unemployed, has decided to leave his wife and family so that he might send them money and ease their lives. And Murad Idrissi, envying the tourists he hustles for "the nonchalance in [their] demeanor, free from the burden of survival" (p. 114), dreams of the new life and wealth he might have in Spain, not having to watch his sister provide for the family when he cannot. They are drawn to the risky and illegal trip by stories of relatives and neighbors who've found jobs and send regular checks to their families. The After stories hurt in a way I like to be hurt by literature. Their stories are as complex as the outcomes. Faten sometimes thinks of her friend Noura back in Rabat and wonders if she still wore the hijab. "She was rich; she had the luxury of faith. But then Faten thought, Noura also had the luxury of having no faith" (p. 144). Aziz discovers the cost to his relationships for going away for so long. In one especially moving scene, he receives a letter announcing that his father has passed away. Not having a phone, he calls frantically from a grocery to find them surprisingly with little to say and not the same swell of emotion. "By then his father has already been dead a month, and the event carried no urgency" (p. 172). Halima had narrowly escaped drowning except for a surprise hero. And Murad learns the cost of spending so much time dreaming of the future. How lucky for the reader that this remains a collection of stories, that we hear the Arabic accent in the cadence,
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