I’m back with another blog tour and this time it’s for the re-release of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami. A big shout out to Kelly from Algonquin for asking me to be part of this blog tour! I’m chuffed to have been given the opportunity to read something that’s well out of my usual reads and comfort zone, but I’m so glad I gave this a go! Special thanks to Algonquin Books and the author for providing me a copy of her book as part of this blog tour in exchange for an honest review.
Goodreads: Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Release Date: 14 April 2020 (re-release)
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits evokes the grit and enduring grace that is modern Morocco. As four Moroccans illegally cross the Strait of Gibraltar in an inflatable boat headed for Spain, author Laila Lalami asks, What has driven them to risk their lives? And will the rewards prove to be worth the danger? There’s Murad, a gentle, unemployed man who’s been reduced to hustling tourists around Tangier; Halima, who’s fleeing her drunken husband and the slums of Casablanca; Aziz, who must leave behind his devoted wife in hope of securing work in Spain; and Faten, a student and religious fanatic whose faith is at odds with an influential man determined to destroy her future. Sensitively written with beauty and boldness, this is a gripping book about what propels people to risk their lives in search of a better future.
What first caught my attention was the title: “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits“. It instantly piqued my interest and made me wonder what the book would be about. I have to admit that I haven’t read many books about immigrants, and it’s been a while since I’ve read anything set in the African continent, but I think that the stories Lalami writes in this book are perhaps even more relevant now than before.
We follow four characters who we meet on a small boat crossing the sea from Morocco to Spain. It’s a relatively short journey but it can also be fraught with peril. What follows are before and after portraits of what leads them to the boat journey. It was a fairly quick, easy and eye-opening read; however, I’ve frequently struggled with short stories because I’m always left wanting more. I feel that just as I’m getting to really know the characters the ending comes abruptly, and open endings have always frustrated me.
I did enjoy these character portraits, but I struggled to connect with them and to feel fully invested in their stories, despite being curious to know what happened to get them to this point and what happened to them afterwards. Lalami writes about the immigrant experience with very simple and straightforward prose, and I think she does a very good job of it. I felt that her being from Morocco also made the writing feel less ostentatious and more authentic. She doesn’t exaggerate her characters’ emotions and experiences, we are not compelled to feel sorry or weep for them; their stories are simply being shared. While these immigrants have faced difficulties to varying degrees in their homeland (Morocco), all of them have one thing in common: hope. They are all chasing the hope of a better life for them or their children or the families they leave behind, when they cross the sea to Europe.
Although I didn’t fully connect to the characters, I won’t say that I didn’t feel anything for them or their stories–I felt their hope and desire for a better life and the risks they were willing to take to get it, whether it’s because of socioeconomic pressure or having no better option but to try to make a life somewhere new. But as Lalami illustrates through the characters whose immigrant journey didn’t go exactly as planned, sometimes ‘hope’ shows up when you least expect it and also in the most surprising of ways. I quite enjoyed how she brought all of this to light.
Unexpectedly, my favourite story was about the (religious) fanatic, and it was the one I thought I’d enjoy the least; however, the “after” story came with a delightful twist that I really didn’t see coming! It had me laughing in shock at the unexpectedness of it all, but that’s also life, right? It also illustrates the fickleness of humans and the lengths people will go to, even if it means completely giving up who they are (if that was even really their truth to begin with).
Overall, this was a quick and interesting read. While I didn’t really connect with it as much as I’d hoped, I feel like these stories will work their way under your skin and will have you thinking about them for far longer than anticipated. That’s certainly what happened with me. I would definitely be interested in reading more of Lalami’s work, especially full length novels, as I quite enjoyed her writing style.
Laila Lalami was born in Rabat and educated in Morocco, Great Britain, and the United States. She is the author of the novels Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award; Secret Son, which was on the Orange Prize longlist; and The Moor’s Account, which won the American Book Award, the Arab-American Book Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The Nation, the Guardian, the New York Times, and in many anthologies. She is the recipient of a British Council Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside. Her new novel, The Other Americans, will be published by Pantheon in March 2019.
Have you read Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits or is it on your TBR?