Laila Lalami - Secret Son (3 stars)

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Laila Lalami - Secret Son

(Viking)

Nineteen-year-old Youssef El Mekki lives with his mother in a Casablanca slum, having grown up believing that his father died when he was young. In fact he’s the illegitimate son of a rich local businessman, and when he makes the connection his rags become riches – at least for as long as his morally bankrupt father can keep him hidden from view.

In her debut novel, Moroccan-American essayist and blogger Laila Lalami conjures out of simple prose a vivid depiction of the unseen modern Casablanca, where the stench of garbage makes the eyes water and young urchins sell single cigarettes on street corners. Neither the liberals on the left nor the extremists on the right have the answers, in a town and a country where every avenue seems to lead to futility for young people. If only Lalami’s characters weren’t so stock. Youssef’s droopy helplessness causes him, and with it the book, to be stalked throughout by a sense of grim inevitability.

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