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SECRET SON by Laila Lalami


by Laila Lalami

Pub Date: April 21st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-56512-594-3
Publisher: Algonquin

A slum-dweller in Casablanca is briefly elevated into the upper class, then recruited by Islamic terrorists.

In her debut novel, Lalami, author of the short-story collection Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, 2005), explores the religious and political underpinnings of social inequity in globalized Morocco. Her teen protagonist, Youssef, has begun university studies on scholarship, fulfilling the dreams of his mother, Rachida, a nurse, who raised him single-handedly in a one-room shanty. His father, Rachida claims, died in Youssef’s infancy. Under questioning by Youssef, she admits that his father was Nabil Amrani, scion of a wealthy family, who died in a car crash shortly before their planned marriage and Youssef’s birth. At university, Youssef envies the conspicuous consumption of “Mercedes-and-Marlboro” students. His only friends are Amin, a law student, and Maati, who works for an Islamic extremist group, the Party, which operates a cafe to attract local youth. Hatim, the Party’s chairman, shows Youssef a magazine demonstrating the degenerate journalism (a piece on Morrocan vintners) of a reporter named Benaboud. Also featured in the magazine is a tycoon named Nabil Amrani, who resembles Youssef, right down to the piercing blue eyes. Youssef confronts Amrani, who is thrilled to learn he has a son. Amrani sets Youssef up in a luxurious apartment, where he enjoys the Mercedes-and-Marlboro lifestyle. Amrani, hoping to groom him for the family business, gets Youssef a high-paying job. But when Amrani leaves for Los Angeles to reconcile with his estranged daughter Amal, Youssef is summarily ejected from both job and apartment. In a far-fetched development, Hatim convinces Youssef, who up to now has been impervious to the Party’s propaganda, to see his domestic dilemma as directly linked to the persecution of Muslims. Impulsively, Youssef agrees to execute Benaboud.

An absorbing tale that, alas, ends too abruptly.