19. Secret Son by Laila Lalami

I recently moved to Morocco, and much of my recent reading has been centered on this, but I cannot think of a more appropriate book to describe the dichotomies that this country contains. I’ve previously spent a good bit of time here, but I’ll be living here for a while, and Secret Son articulated a lot of the things I’ve noticed about the country and its political, cultural, and socioeconomic landscape. Secret Son is a novel set in roughly present day Casablanca that describes the tension between different classes in Morocco through the story of Youssef, a young man from the slums on the outskirts of the city.

One of the strange things about Morocco is how over and underdeveloped the country can be at the same time: Casablanca is filled with gigantic skyscrapers, fancy clubs and restaurants, and people with enormous quantities of money – living lifestyles comparable to the 1% in the US, living side by side with shantytowns, houses made of tin and cardboard, most with satellite dishes on top, and people living on much, much less than $200 a month. There are circles of Moroccans who never see these shantytowns, let alone think of the people who reside in them, or dream of trying to help them. This class division has a lot of factors, but is a byproduct of western and European influence in the country – we’ve given a lot of money to develop big industries in Morocco, to drill for oil, keep big fisheries open, but the money has not been equally distributed. Foreign investment has succeeded in widening the gap between the upper class and everyone else, and it’s getting harder and harder to have any sort of class mobility. On top of that, family is everything in Morocco. There is still a system of ruling families, once noble, nouveau riche families, and families that are respected descendants of the prophet. Moreover, people thrive on personal connections, and without one of those family names or an extraordinary amount of money, class mobility practically ceases to exist.

The protagonist, Youssef, embodies these divisions. Born to an orphaned mother (no family connections there) and an absent father (bringing further shame to the family) he grew up in the slums of Casablanca. Lalami’s book traces his transition to the upper echelons of Moroccan society, and although the problems that arise are not unfamiliar, the story is heartbreaking and had a tight grip on me. Even if you’re not interested in Morocco, or socioeconomic barriers to success or a new look at political corruption in the country, I would highly recommend this book. Lalami is a gifted writer and Secret Son is both thought provoking and a quick read – I’m looking forward to reading some of her other books.


Pages: 291/4928


~ by lefaquin on October 18, 2012.

One Response to “19. Secret Son by Laila Lalami”

  1. […]   This is the story of Youssef, a young man from the slums of Casablanca, which Lalami tells while weaving commentary on the political and social status of Morocco into the narrative. Class mobility is key here, and the difficulty of doing so in Morocco. Aside from excellent political and socioeconomic commentary, Secret Son is a thought provoking and enjoyable novel to read – check out my review on my blog! […]

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