Sunday, May 3, 2009

Secret Son

In Secret Son, Laila Lalami takes readers on a trip to Morocco, complete with sights, sounds, and smells. Nineteen-year old Youssef El Mekki enrolls in college in an attempt to rise above life in the slum he was raised in, when he learns that there may be another way out. His father, who he'd been told was dead, is actually a very successful businessman, who just might be interested in building a relationship with his illegitimate son he's never known.

Apart from the Moroccan setting--which I loved--this book didn't stand out for me one way or the other. I think someone with a head for politics would have a better appreciation for the underlying tension between different factions, which I have to admit went in one eye and out the other some of the time. And, apparently I was never fully on board with Youssef, because at times his actions and reactions had me stymied, especially near the end.

In the spirit of some of my favorite posts from Presenting Lenore, I'd like to share 8 memories of my own trip to Morocco, in college.

1. Arriving with big plans to lounge around on the beach all week, only to be told by our tour leader that all of the beaches within walking distance of our hotel were both unsafe for women and grossly polluted.

2. Finding a local bakery and deli that sold delicious round loaves of bread and several kinds of Moroccan cheese. We'd never heard of Moroccan cheese before! Lunch for the week: done.

3. Meeting Abdul, who offered to take us around to meet his "friends," all of whom just happened to sell overpriced rugs and leather to make their living.
"The government really needs to help our sector," Nabil was saying. "One problem, for example, is false guides. It's impossible for a foreign tourist to have a good time if he's going to be hounded by guides at every corner."

Impossible? Nah. Difficult, maybe.
4. Wandering among heaping piles of spices and olives at the market. The aromas!

5. Taking a bus from one town to the next, and watching them load the goats and chickens onto the top of the bus. Even more fun: watching them unload. Mehhhhh! Bawk! Bawk!

6. Making friends with a fellow tourist, a Welsh ex-con (or so he said) who was interesting to talk to, though upon further aquaintance turned out to be somewhat insane.

7. Splurging on a horseback riding and lunch tour package with a friend on the last day. Riding horses on the sands of the (safe and unpolluted) beach, then making our way back to the guide's home, where his wife made us a glorious tajine--the best (and only authentic Morrocan) food we'd had all week, unless you count the bread and cheese.

8. Coming back to the hotel from the horseback ride, telling the Welsh ex-con that our fannies were sore from riding, watching his jaw drop. Lesson learned: "fanny" refers to a completely different part of the anatomy in England than it does in the U.S.

The Soundtrack: "He played H-Kayne on the stereo every morning, as if the music could somehow conjure up his mother, his friends, his old neighborhood." H-Kayne is defined as "Hip hop made in Morocco." It has a very different sound from American hip hop, though, so even if you think you don't like hip hop you should give it a listen, in my sidebar.


  1. Awesome! I love your Moroccan memories and am so glad you took inspiration from me :)

    I have this book in my pile, so maybe I should study up on politics before I dive in?

    Tunesia was the same way with all the "guides". Very, very annoying. I went with Daniel, and still, the whole time they came on to me saying that I need to dump my cold European man and get a hot North African man...

  2. Your trip sounds like it was wonderful! Sorry the book wasn't as good.

  3. Thanks, Kathy!

    Lenore, LOL about ditching your husband for a hot North African man! That seems to be a common Mediterranean prospect.

    I'm glad you don't mind me borrowing your idea. It was fun to think back all those years ago! As for the book, don't fret about brushing up on politics ahead of time. It's only one facet of a multi-faceted book--but one I was sorry not to have an appreciation for.

  4. I loved reading about your trip to Morocco. I went to Powell's last week and hear Laila Lalami speak about her book, but I haven't read it.

  5. Alyce, I intended to go to Powells while I was reading the book, but my husband was sick and it didn't seem fair to leave him in charge while I went. I'm sorry to have missed it.

  6. I liked the book overall, but the ending was a real let-down. i read the galley and at first thought maybe they'd left off a chapter or two at the end! but no! :-(

  7. It sounds like you're on a travel kick via books. I like the Moroccan memories.

  8. Marie, I agree about the ending, it was kinda puzzling.

    Jill, Funny how that worked out, isn't it? One of them was a LibraryThing ER book and the author of the other one was giving a reading here in April, so I just happened to read them next to each other.

  9. you went to Morocco? ooo jealous!

  10. I love your list of Moroccan memories - how fun (and funny at times!)

    SECRET SON has been on my radar ... sorry it didn't leave you with a "you should read this!" feeling.