Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Laila Lalami's poetic debut, begins with the illegal journey of four Moroccans across the Strait of Gibraltar. Moments away from the shores of Spain, the boat capsizes and the passengers are forced to swim for their lives, and their freedom. What follows is an exploration of the pasts that led to this passage, and the futures that emerge from this voyage.
Less a novel than a series of biographical sketches, the book seems at times like a tease; Lalami does such a beautiful job creating her characters that readers will undoubtedly be left wanting more. Still, each portrait gives us a chance to not only engage with the character, but to gain an understanding of the religious, socio-economic, and emotional circumstances that compel each person to leave Morocco. Faten, a student who dons the hijab, is forced to flee when her religious beliefs start threatening the lives of influential educators. Murad, a serious, educated young man chances the crossing in search of a better life, where he doesn't have to hustle tourists to make a living. In each scene, Lalami bring Moroccan culture to life, from the tree-lined suburbs of Rabat to the Douar Lhajja slum, "where couscous pots were used as satellite dishes."
With Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Lalami creates a world that is both modern and traditional, hopeful and desperate, mournful and joyous. Readers can look forward to much more from this talented new voice. --Gisele Toueg
From Publishers Weekly
The four main characters of this linked series of fictional profiles are connected by a single goal: the desire to emigrate from Morocco to Spain, where there are jobs. Lalami, author of the literary blog moorishgirl.com, opens her book with the four (along with several others) illegally crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in a tiny inflatable raft; when it capsizes near shore, it is everyone for themselves. The next four chapters flash back to their varying lives in Morocco: Faten, a lower-class, college-aged woman appears only through the eyes of middle-class friend Noura's parents, who are horror-stricken as Noura falls under Faten's influence and begins wearing the hijab; Halima, a financially struggling mother who, with her children, is escaping an abusive marriage; Aziz Ammor, who hopes to support his wife by finding work in Spain; and Murad, a college graduate who makes pocket money by taking Paul Bowles fans on informal tours. The four following chapters detail, with sensitivity and journalistic clarity, their lives after the trip across the Strait. Less a novel than a set of finely detailed portraits, this book gives outsiders a glimpse of some of Moroccan society's strata and the desperation that underlies many ordinary lives.
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