books, Reading, Women Writers

“Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits” by Laila Lalami

“Fourteen kilometers. Murad has pondered that number hundreds of times in the last year, trying to decide whether the risk was worth it. Some days he told himself that the distance was nothing, a brief inconvenience, that the crossing would take as little as thirty minutes if the weather was good. He spent hours thinking about what he would do once he was on the other side, imagining the job, the car, the house. Other days he could think only about the coast guards, the ice-cold water, the money he’d have to borrow, and he wondered how fourteen kilometers could separate not just two countries but two universes.”

1250814Four Moroccans – Murad, Aziz, Halima, and Faten – are thrown together under the most extraordinary circumstances; they meet on a small, inflatable boat as they are attempting to emigrate to Spain. Laila Lalami’s delicate, precise prose creates a compelling and divergent backstory for each refugee and at least the beginnings of understanding as to why these people – and uncountable others – would risk their lives to leave their home country.  Lalami speaks of political oppression, religious fervor, domestic abuse, and the dream of opportunity. And just as each of these four emigres has a different reason to flee, so do they each have a dramatically different future ahead of them.

“Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits” is a diminutive book, weighing little and taking up minimal real estate. Its lightness, however, is deceptive. Lalami’s writing is quietly angry at times, joyfully sarcastic at others.

“Larbi was in shock. His only daughter, dressed like some ignorant peasant! But even peasants didn’t dress like that. She wasn’t talking about wearing some traditional country outfit. No, she wanted the accoutrements of the new breed of Muslim Brothers: headscarf tightly folded around her face, severe expression anchored in her eyes. His precious daughter. She would look like those rabble-rousers you see on live news channels, eyes darting, mouths agape, fists raised. But, he tried to tell himself, maybe this was just a fleeting interest, maybe it would all go away. After all, Noura had had other infatuations.”

While overtly political in its subject matter – and how could a book about immigration not be – “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits” doesn’t impose any particular ideology. Lalami presents stories, humanizes a culture and country with which many westerners are unfamiliar. Her characters, like their country and their relationships, are flawed; their hopes and dreams, like many hopes and dreams, are imperfect. Laila Lalami has written a story not just about her home country, but about the vitality and essentialness of hope.