Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
Laila Lalami

Hope and other dangerous puruitsI’ve just finished this lovely, poetic novel, debut by Laila Lalami about how hope is making us in move and about how much we are willing to sacrifice to make it happened.

First I’m very pleasantly surprised with the structure of the novel (“novel” in some lovely weird way). Namely it starts from the middle of the story, somewhere in the middle of the road between survival and life (or should I say ‘hope’?), in the middle of the night, between two continents: Africa and Europe; in the middle of the path which separates “not just two countries but two universes.”; in the boat made for eight people but which bears thirty passengers right now.
All those passengers have in common hope, their dream about life they couldn’t have in their motherland – Morocco.

They are approaching Spanish coast with fear in their stomach and hope in their eyes and … (I’ll avoid spoilers)… after page or two we are reaching the spot where story starts to branch (it’s like a reverse delta). Or maybe it’s even better to say that we are reaching narrowest spot on the sandglass.

Sandglass is turned over and now we are following lives of the main characters prior their journey and here the novel becomes sort of collection of short stories. And these stories are very detailed and very personal portraits of persons with different characters, professions, education, etc. which are living in the same (mainly) political/economical pot which will transform them in immigrants.

It is a very colorful picture of nowadays Morocco and clash of its traditional and modern faces. Land filled with tourists seeking for roots of Paul Bowles’s inspiration, or hashish, or some other sort of exotic adventure while muezzins are calling for prayer from minarets, with streets with girls covered with scarves and gay couples fearless sitting in the bars. We are introduced with some Islamic customs, especially in the marriage; with two completely different ways of interpretation of Qur’an: traditional as if there are no changes from the time of the Prophet and the modern one which is adapted with the current civilization level. And of course cuisine: you could feel the smell while passing through the pages mouth-watering.

However accent is on the horrifying economic situation with huge unemployment population (sometime regardless their education), extremely (and quite openly) corrupted system, from university via any sort of bureaucracy ‘till the judicial system. Indeed you have a sensation of hermetic-incurable-never-ending-no-way-out, sensation so strong that you can feel it in your throat. Sensation that is boosted with descriptions of their homes, streets, furniture, etc so that you are wondering “How on Earth they’re surviving at all?” and naturally when you’re looking with their eyes immigrate in Spain is best (if not only) solution.

Then again sandglass is turned over and now we can see how immigrants live in their new country. Of course those kinds of dreams are often nightmares but it is incredible how people can find consolation and be satisfied. I guess when you manage to leave enormous misery behind, new misery doesn’t look so unbearable. You just have to remember the ones who weren’t that lucky and who would instantly exchange their place with yours.
Naturally new life will change them but while some changes are expectable (no one would gladly accept to leave horse and ride donkey again) some changes are so drastic that I had to double check if that is the same person.

I should say that “sandglass” will be turned over more than once: to let us know why would anyone leave its own people, family, friends, customs and go in unknown land among strangers, become stranger himself (even among compatriots); to let us know how the ones who survived the trip but have not succeed in their intention are reestablish their lives in the country they wanted to leave; and to let us know about the ones whose lives have torn from the roots and are thrown on the other soil.
This is a story about their hope which helps them to stay alive.

Now as a student of the Institute Cervantes I was always wondering why Morocco is the country with the largest number of Cervantes Institutes. Well it was logical that countries like France or UK or Germany or some other ‘rich’ country will have many Institutes but Morocco is a priority. Now when I think about that it IS logical. Namely illegal immigration is huge problem for Spain and so they decided at least to give those potential immigrants opportunity to learn Spanish, educate themselves about customs and culture etc.

This novel is Hidden Treasure! (check the link)