This one ended up being a 3.5 stars for me, rounded up from 3 because the writing is just lovely, and I could imagine myself walking through the streets of Casablanca, both parts of the city described in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two parts of the book, but found the last part rushed, and also that it fit together just a little bit too well (more on that below).
Youssef lives with his mother in a tiny tinned-roof shack in the slum of Hay an Najat in Casablanca. For most of his young life he has believed that his father died when he was young and that his mother was a widow, working hard as a hospital clerk to ensure he would be able to go to school and make a life for himself. But he suddenly finds out that not only is his father alive, he is also an extremely well off and prominent business man who lives in the “better” part of Casablanca. When Youssef finally reveals himself to his father he is surprised that he takes him under his wing, as long as he stays a secret until his father is ready to introduce him to his world. At the same time Youssef leaves his friends, his university classes, and even his mother for this new life, but all ends abruptly in a way that leaves Youssef with no choice other than to go back to where he came from.
At the same time there is a lot of civil unrest in the universities, students are tired of the massive divide between the wealthy and the poor, with no way to climb up the ladder. Corruption is rampant, and “the Party” (radical Islamic political party) is also make waves in the slums, bringing much needed help to those in need, and gaining sympathy and believers from those who have been deceived by more liberal politicians and a more liberal take on religion.
I loved how Secret Son is a coming of age novel for someone who has always felt slightly out of place, and who navigates two worlds on a fine tightrope, always worried about when he will fall off. Laila Lalami provides a great overview of a Morocco on the brink of something bigger, the surface cracking, and people beginning to look for a better way of life. But I did find that the road towards extremism and ultimately terrorism was too fast and too easy. There was something lacking in that storyline, I can’t exactly put my finger on what exactly, but I felt a little disappointed. I think I needed a little more development when it came to Youssef’s choices in terms of fundamentalism. I think the novel could easily have been another 50 pages, allowing for more time to develop this part of the story, and less need for everything to “fit” so perfectly together.
Secret Son is a story of borders within borders, and the lines that we draw around ourselves and others, what we deem acceptable and not acceptable. It is also a great portrayal of the swaying winds of Morocco, where the liberal, the corrupt, and the seemingly well-meaning religious fundamentalists are all shrouded by the same cloth really: they protect what is theirs and covet what they think should be theirs.
#ReadAfrica2018 - Morocco