Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Review: Secret Son by Laila Lalami

18 year old Youssef El Mekki has lived all his life with his mother in the slums of Casablanca thinking that his father died in an accident when he was a baby. When he finds out his father is not only alive but also a rich businessman, Youssef tracks him down and father and son begin a tentative relationship. Youssef begins to enjoy a life of privilege and allows himself to finally hope for a brighter future – but forces beyond his control threaten to take his new life away from him.

One of my favorite aspects of reading international fiction is being able to immerse myself in the culture that the author is presenting – in this case modern Morocco. Author Lalami writes with such immediacy and passion that it’s easy to get drawn into Youssef’s story. As is often the case with sagas involving family secrets, selfishness and a lamentable lack of communication shape the characters’ destinies.

As I’ve told a couple of friends since reading this, it seems that Lalami already had an ending in mind and then fashioned a narrative that would lead to that end. I can understand why Lalami would want to tell a story with the type of ending she has chosen, but she put so much effort into Youssef’s character that this ending ends up feeling like a cop-out and not the inevitable one she may have been going for. SPOILER: (Roll over the following text with your mouse to read) The ending has strong similarities to the Jeff Bridges/Tom Robbins movie Arlington Road – but the movie’s ending was better set-up and just better. I guess if you haven't seem the movie, this isn't much of a spoiler, but if you have, you know what I am talking about.


SECRET SON is available in hardcover now. Find out more about the book (and watch the trailer) at the author's website.

13 comments:

Kate said...

This sounds really interesting. I didn't look at the spoiler. The plot of this book really intrigues me. Great review!

Just an added note:
I'm listening to Thriller so I tapped each button to the tune of Thriller.

Beth F said...

The general idea of the book interests me: family saga and being totally immersed in another culture. I didn't look at the spoiler, so I'm not sure how I'd feel about the ending. I keep it on my radar, but I don't think I'm going to rush right out to buy it.

Nicole said...

I looked at the spoiler since if I am honest I know that I will not have the opportunity to read this one any time soon. I do remember that movie and I can see how it would hurt the book if it's not well executed. That's too bad, cause it does sound interesting.

I was just doing a crossword the other day that asked for the capital of Morocco.

Kelsey said...

This sounds interesting, the cover is cool, too.

Nice review!

Lenore said...

Nicole - Wasn't that a great movie? I watched it years ago, but I still remember it very clearly.

Literary Feline said...

Like you, I love being able to immerse myself in another culture. I've been especially drawn to reading fiction set in other countries lately as a result.

I love how you did the spoiler, Lenore! It's been awhile since I've seen anyone use "hidden text".

Thank you for your great review!

brizmus said...

I did not roll over the text to read. . .but just knowing that she wrote the story with the ending in mind makes me want to read it. Because I'm so curious about what that ending could be.

Alice Teh said...

I didn't peek at the spoiler! This book is interesting!

Staci said...

I've read other reviews of this one that felt the same way at the ending. Not sure if it is for me or not but it does sound interesting.

Insert Book Title said...

Kate: Loved the Thriller thing.

Great review and I really like the cover!

Alyce said...

I haven't read this book, but I did go with a friend to hear the author speak and read a bit from her book, which was a fun experience.

Zibilee said...

I think I would be really annoyed with reading a book and feeling like the ending was forced. It sounds like it was a great reading experience up until that point.

Kathleen said...

This book has been on my wishlist for awhile, glad that you enjoyed it!