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by Faïza Guène

Pub Date: July 15th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-15-101420-0
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Algerian immigrants try to make it in the gritty suburbs of Paris but have a difficult time keeping heart, soul and family together.

Guène (Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow, 2006), who is of Algerian descent, has created a gutsy narrator in Ahlème, who tries to “roam around in the middle of everybody, the ones who run, the ones who beat each other up, are late, argue, make phone calls, the ones who never smile.” One of her principal concerns is her father, The Boss, who three years earlier received a head injury on his construction job and now sits in an armchair in his pajamas. Another anxiety is Ahlème’s brother Foued, who’s supposed to be in school but who prefers to run with a wild crowd on the streets, the “big dogs” who traffic in stolen DVDs. Because her mother died in a massacre in Algeria some years before, Ahlème is de facto parent both to her father and to her brother. Besides worrying about her family, she spends time looking for work. All she’s been able to come up with recently are dismal temporary jobs like handing out heart-shaped balloons on Valentine’s Day, going door-to-door selling mobile phones and having conversations on a phone-chat line. Overall, things don’t go Ahlème’s way: Tonislav, her putative boyfriend, is ambushed by the prefecture and sent back to Belgrade; Foued is expelled from school for calling one of his teachers a slut. Ahlème is street-smart and wants to convey to her family in Algeria that “over there, in France, it’s not what they think, that through the distorting window that is the television, they know nothing real.”

Ahlème is real, and her tenacity, uncompromising toughness and cynical sense of humor give the novel a hint of joy.