In the second book by Faiza Guene, Dreams from the Endz, the main difference from her opening work, which you notice from the start, is a different tone of voice. There is more assurance here. You would expect that perhaps from someone who saw her first book become a bestseller. But equally it could have gone the other way and she could have frozen.
The story revolves around Ahleme, who is 24, hence the more mature voice. She lives with her brother Foued who is facing expulsion from school and potentially a life of crime connected with drugs. But his big sister is there to save him, even if she cannot always save herself. Connecting them both is a father who is struggling after an industrial accident.
Ahleme shuns the choices of some friends to seize a man to provide security and structure to their lives and instead sets out not only to find personal satisfaction but also to answer some of the big questions. Just as with the first book Just like Tomorrow these big questions focus on just what options there are open to an immigrant living in a sink estate in the French capital.
The people that populate Guene’s stories are caught in a no-man’s land where they are following some of the traditions from a culture they have left behind in a country that has not accepted them. The result is a sort of blindness that means these people are unseen and unwanted by almost every side.
But what Guene shows again with the spunky and intelligent main character of Ahleme is that those that are easily ignored and seen as immigrant failures can be quite the opposite. It is not just the French and the Algerians making judgments but of course what Ahleme finds out as she interacts with not just her own generation but the one below through her brother, is that the immigrant society is quite capable of dividing itself.
Those divisions can reinforce the racism from outside and the alienation that those struggling to breathe in the estate feel. It is also interesting when again they travel back to Algeria and rediscover a land where although it is not the same as France in some respects it is better. In Algeria the rough edges around Foued are smoothed out and the support for the brain damaged father is much more in evidence.
The trip back to Algeria, along with the gang slang in Paris, provokes a glossary at the back of the book. I tended not to bother reading is as the majority of words were self explanatory in their context. The use of slang is obviously something real from the streets but glossaries are dangerous things because they can switch a reader off.
But of course that only highlights the main problem which is the consequences of no longer being part of that community. Guene writes with wit and a voice that is so clearly that of someone not prepared to accept second best. It comes through in her books and as I saw when she spoke at the World Literature Weekend it comes through in her personality.
One of the delights of the LRB weekend world literature festival earlier this summer was the appearance of Faiza Guene. You half expected someone who had penned a best seller at the age of 17 to wander in and dominate the proceedings with s sulky and spoilt air. What arrived was a woman, now in her mid twenties, who was full of opinions, insights and inspiration for anyone who has ever thought that breaking into the world of literature was an impossibility.
Her first book has the feeling of being written by a 17 year old in terms of the issues it deals with concerned with teenage love and the question of sorting out a life and a career. What makes Just Like Tomorrow interesting for a man who has long since left his teenage years behind him (myself as a reader) is the world the story is set in.
Guene takes you in to a world of immigrants living in the Parisian slums. Doria lives with her mum, who barely speaks French and works in the down at heel Formula 1 motel. The mother and daughter are seen by their relatives in Algeria as being in a luxurious position but it doesn’t feel like that for Doria. Side stepping the pitfalls of immigrant poverty are described with great humour but there is a serious message underneath.
The way that Doria interacts with social workers, the drug dealers on the estate and her career advisors indicates that for those less determined and more vulnerable life really would close in on them. On top of that going home is no escape because there women are treated as second rate citizens and the horizons are even more limited than in France.
In terms of giving a voice to someone from a world that most of us would never experience and a life that most of us would never live this is a book that manages to slip under the radar and leave you pondering some large questions.
The only criticism that could be leveled against it is perhaps the length with it feeling short and perhaps the idea that love can change the world is done in a slightly too obvious way. But those are minor criticisms really and overall perhaps the main feeling you get on closing the last chapter is one of respect for someone who really did come from that background and used her own talents to escape and do better.
At the end of this you are left with a sense that not only can good things happen in the bleakest of surroundings but also that love is an emotion that really can make the world go round.
As Doria watches her friends fall in love and former drug dealing hoodlums falling head over heels she is left to consider her own feelings for her friends. She decides to give love a chance and as the final few pages are turned this is a young woman who has not only maintained her optimism but now has someone potentially to share it with.
Funny and to use a youth term sassy this was a very enjoyable read. Review to come soon…
This book is written with great humour and has a very clearly defined tone of voice. As the main character weaves her way through the dissapointments of poverty, educational failure and indifference from various social workers things seem to be fairly bleak.
But what keeps you reading and what keeps the story going is an incredible sense of spirit. Even though there are loads of things going wrong for them the immigrants are determined to survive. They support each other and make it possible for a network of care to plug the gaps left by the French authorities.
It might not always work but the majority of the time Doria is looking upwards rather than down into despair. In that sense it is inspirational.
The tone of the voice in Just Like Tomorrow is younger than Dreams from the Endz but no worse for that. The story is similar with it being about a girl stuck on the paradise estate. Here she lives with her illiterate mother and has to cope with social services trying to get a foot-up in life.
She seems to be getting left behind as her school can no longer find a place for her and the social workers try to help her come to terms with the decision of her father to abandon them and return to Morocco.
The story is told with humour but also a conversational style that brings the reader in. It is almost as if you are being spoken to and if this is a private diary then you as a reader are privileged enough to be reading it.
But this is fiction and you hope that the miserable life that 15 year old Doria has to struggle with will change.
As she weaves in and out of blind dates, failed moments of love with deported immigrants and into a more secure job Ahleme puts her own dreams to one side as she steps into look after her father and brother.
The brother she warns is losing his way finally proves it and gets excluded from school. With her brother in trouble, her father losing touch with reality and her job becoming more stable she decides to take the family home for a trip.
You sense that a return to Algeria could sort her brother out, help her father and for herself give a chance to slay the dragons of the past. Although she doesn’t have that lottery winning moment to take herself out of things she manages to know herself and that wisdom is her reward and strength.
A review will follow soon…
In a rush I picked up the second novel By Faiza Guene rather than her first Just Like Tomorrow. It doesn’t matter too much because the stories are not interlinked but it would have been good to start at the beginning so to speak.
Still once opened the story is so easily accessible that you get straight into the story of Ahleme who lives with her father and brother. She is not the shy retiring type and so manages to defend herself in the housing estate in the mindset of drug dealers, criminals and those without a future.
This is not written as some sort of plea to be listened but more of an objective account of a world that to most of her readers is completely unknown.
This is about a young woman who has been denied almost everything not just as a result of poverty but because no one will believe in her dreams. She has been abandoned by her adopted country France and no longer has a place in Algeria her birthplace. She exists as an embarrassment to those that approve her immigration papers and fail completely to help her or her family.