Laila Lalamiís Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits profiles the lives of four very different individuals, all bound for Spain as illegal immigrants. Under the cover of night, Lalamiís characters cross the Strait of Gibraltar together in an inflatable raft after more traditional means of emigrating to Spain from Morocco have proven unsuccessful. Alternating between the past and present day, Lalami tells each passengerís story and describes the events leading up to his or her decision to leave Morocco for Spain. A land of possibility and a place to reinvent themselves, Spain offers each of these individuals a chance to rewrite their otherwise bleak, predetermined destiny.
Larbi Amrani works for the Moroccan Ministry of Education and is horrified when his daughter Noura begins wearing the hijab and following teachings of the Qurían. Larbi blames Faten, Nouraís new friend, for the change in his daughter. Faten is a member of the Islamic Student Organization and has been very influential in Nouraís decision not to attend NYU. When Noura tells her father that she no longer wants to study in America but wants to help out at home by becoming a middle-school teacher, Larbi decides to take matters into his own hands and uses his position in the Moroccan Ministry of Education to have Faten expelled from school.
No longer allowed in school and no opportunity for work, Faten secures her spot in the raft bound for Spain. With no credentials to her name, finding a job in Spain proves to be just as difficult as finding a job in Morocco, and Faten soon enters a life of prostitution, fantasizing about what could have been. Empty promises and several conversations with one of her regular customers force Faten to realize that the only person that can truly help her is herself. Longing for old traditions and determined to bring some sense of normalcy back into her life, Faten prepares a traditional Eid holiday meal signifying what she hopes is a new beginning.
Desperate for a divorce that her alcoholic, abusive husband refuses to grant her, Halima Bouhamsa and her three children also make the fourteen-kilometer journey to Spain in the raft. Forced to jump out and swim the remainder of the way to shore, Halima, her children, and the others in the raft are intercepted by the Spanish Guardia Civil and deported back to Morocco. Now jobless and homeless, Halima borrows money and rents a room in a slum outside the city of Casablanca. Unable to find janitorial work, Halima becomes one of hundreds of day workers struggling to survive and provide for their families. Halimaís luck begins to change, however, sparked by her husband Maati finally agreeing to a divorce. Halima is filled with hope, elated that her future now holds some promise.
Wanting so much to make a living and provide for his young wife, Aziz Amor boards the raft for Spain in search of work. After being deported the first time, he spends a few months in Tangier hustling before attempting to emigrate again. The second time he is successful and over the course of five years manages to find enough work to rent himself an apartment in Madrid and send some money home to his family. Finally returning to Morocco for a visit and hoping to bring his wife, Zohra, back to Spain, Aziz finds Casablanca a depressed city, riddled with unemployment, poverty, and backward customs. After an emotional reunion with Zohra and his mother, Aziz paints a rosy picture of Spain for family and friends, neglecting to mention his invisibility in the eyes of native Spaniards. Failing to convince Zohra to return to Madrid with him, Aziz leaves for Spain again alone.
Feeling inadequate as man of the house now that his father is dead, Murad lets himself be convinced by hustler/smuggler Rahal that he can create a better life for himself in Spain. Selling some of this motherís jewelry to come up with the twenty thousand dirhams necessary to guarantee his place in the raft, Murad sets off for Spain with Faten, Halima, and Aziz. After being deported by the Guardia Civil, Murad returns to his motherís house in Tangier but is humiliated and refuses to be seen in public. Murad spends several listless months moping around his motherís house then jumps at the opportunity to help manage a gift shop specializing in traditional Moroccan wares. Happy to be working again, it slowly dawns on Murad that all of his daydreaming and living in the future have made him unaware of the past slipping by.
Vividly depicting the turbulent experiences of four young Muslim immigrants, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits is Lalamiís stellar first work. Although two of her characters do succeed in emigrating to Spain, Lalami portrays their lives as not much better than those characters whose attempts at emigration failed. Faten makes it to Madrid but leads a life she is ashamed of; Aziz, who also makes it to Madrid, lives a life of isolation as society is reluctant to accept him. Halima and Murad, both deported back to Morocco, initially fall on hard times but are eventually able to make peace with what life has in store for them. Beautifully written, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits will leave readers yearning for more from this talented novelist.