Posted by: koolwine | January 16, 2012

Morocco: Secret Son

A young man from the slums discovers that he was born out of wedlock and that his father is a wealthy businessman.  Devastated after his dear ol’ dad snubs him, he falls prey to Islamic fundamentalists.

Country Focus: Morocco (Al Maghreb in Arabic)

Secret Son
By Laila Lalami
Originally published by Algonquin Books, 2009.
My edition: Algonquin Books, 2010. 291 pgs.

Acclaim: Short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2006;  Short-listed for the National Book Critics’ Circle Nona Balakian Award in 2009

Genre: Fiction
Time period:

To make a long story short: Youssef El-Mekki is a college student majoring in English.  He has a couple of close friends, enjoys watching movies, and hopes that his education will lift him and his mother out of the Casablanca slum that they call home.   After rains flood the area, a group of Islamic fundamentalists led by a man named Hatim move into the ruined movie theater and assist the stricken community.  Hatim’s  radical religious messages hold no appeal to Youssef, but he acknowledges that help has come from no other quarter.

Youssef had long believed that his father died from a tragic accident, so his kasbah is seriously rocked when he learns that not only was he born out of wedlock, but that his father is Nabil Amrani, a wealthy and successful businessman.  Youssef tracks Amrani down, who is delighted to discover that he has a son and gives him an apartment and a job with his company.   Youssef’s new digs and position last only a couple of years.  Amrani’s wife, brothers, and daughter pressure him to cut off  his new-found son.  Crushed by his father’s betrayal, Youssef returns to the slums and falls into an angry and depressed funk.  Hatim notices the vulnerable young man and wastes no time in exploiting him.


All morning, as he had sat alone in the apartment, thinking about his father, Youssef had told himself that he should try not to look back on the past and should focus on the future instead.  Yet already he could not help feeling a touch of envy upon hearing about his sister’s studies at UCLA.  This was what people like the Amranis did: they studied in private schools, went to university in France or Canada or the United States, and then came back to run the country, while the rest of the people got by on fifteen hundred dirhams a month.  Youssef had heard a rumor that one of the government ministers smoked Cuban cigars that each cost that much – and he was never seen on TV without one.

The author:

Laila Lalami

Laila Lalami was born and raised in Morocco and grew up speaking Moroccan Arabic and French.  She attended Université Mohammed-V in Rabat and worked as a staff writer at the newspaper Al-Bayane.   She currently lives in Los Angeles.  Of the long distance from her county, she says, “…I hope that my life is in some way like the Qur’anic parable of the good word – a tree firmly rooted but with its branches in the sky.”  Her first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, follows four Moroccans who undertake an illegal and perilous crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar for the chance to live in Europe.

Overall Rating:

(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and  5 books = lit up)


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