Wednesday, December 31, 2008

'Hope and other dangerous pursuits'

I like Leila Lelami's blogs. Her book reviews, political commentary and information on the North African literary scene are entrancing. So it is with high expectations that I picked up 'Hope and other dangerous pursuits' by Leila Lelami.

This novel details a group of Moroccans who follow a perilous journey to cross the 14km that separate Europe and Africa to reach Spain. Ability to get intimate with the characters and thus to channel the way for the reader to understand the complex and intricate morass of their personalities, which is what, essentially, the opportunity a writer has. Leila Lelami's novel, I think, while heart wrenching at times failed to evolve the characters to reveal their complexities. For example, what was Faten's character - An Islamic devout and a fundamentalist who turned to prostitution in Spain? While this is completely plausible, I would have liked to understand better how she reached from one abyss to the other. What would have been more powerful might have been if Leila had chosen to describe the moments of transition, the contradictions and confusions that might have besieged her in that moment. The character that struck me most was Aziz - may be since I have known people who have been in that state before. Being from Kerala, the exodus of newly married men to the gulf countries is a constant phenomena. In many cases, there is no expectation that their wives are taken along, unless the men are educated and they have high paying jobs. The wives retreat to their homes to take care of their children, do the necessary family duties, often only stepping out to go to the bank to cash the checks that arrive on time. Some 'demanding' wives are given the promises of being joined with their husbands, often knowing very well that it would only end as a pipe dream.

The story of migration is as old as the humans itself. In the ancient times, it was a handful of people who risked their lives to leave their familiar surroundings of the Rift Valley and set out north - the first of the migrations of the human kind. In a world without motor vehicles and planes, their descendants over several generations spread around the world. We stand where we are today because somewhere along the lane, someone traveled a different road, someone risked their lives so that their next generation would survive. It is with this perspective I see the migrations across the world - Bangladesh to India, Morocco to Spain, Mexico to United States, people do extra ordinary things to leave the only place they have known for all their lives to seek a better future. I am no fool to think that we need open borders, but I do think that the best bet to prevent illegal migration is to help alleviate the terrible living conditions prevailing in those countries.

All in all, this book is an interesting read, especially if you are unfamiliar about the issue of illegal migration.

No comments: