Wednesday, September 02, 2009
book review - Dreams from the Endz - Faiza Guene
In the second book by Faiza Guene, Dreams from the Endz, the main difference from her opening work, which you notice from the start, is a different tone of voice. There is more assurance here. You would expect that perhaps from someone who saw her first book become a bestseller. But equally it could have gone the other way and she could have frozen.
The story revolves around Ahleme, who is 24, hence the more mature voice. She lives with her brother Foued who is facing expulsion from school and potentially a life of crime connected with drugs. But his big sister is there to save him, even if she cannot always save herself. Connecting them both is a father who is struggling after an industrial accident.
Ahleme shuns the choices of some friends to seize a man to provide security and structure to their lives and instead sets out not only to find personal satisfaction but also to answer some of the big questions. Just as with the first book Just like Tomorrow these big questions focus on just what options there are open to an immigrant living in a sink estate in the French capital.
The people that populate Guene’s stories are caught in a no-man’s land where they are following some of the traditions from a culture they have left behind in a country that has not accepted them. The result is a sort of blindness that means these people are unseen and unwanted by almost every side.
But what Guene shows again with the spunky and intelligent main character of Ahleme is that those that are easily ignored and seen as immigrant failures can be quite the opposite. It is not just the French and the Algerians making judgments but of course what Ahleme finds out as she interacts with not just her own generation but the one below through her brother, is that the immigrant society is quite capable of dividing itself.
Those divisions can reinforce the racism from outside and the alienation that those struggling to breathe in the estate feel. It is also interesting when again they travel back to Algeria and rediscover a land where although it is not the same as France in some respects it is better. In Algeria the rough edges around Foued are smoothed out and the support for the brain damaged father is much more in evidence.
The trip back to Algeria, along with the gang slang in Paris, provokes a glossary at the back of the book. I tended not to bother reading is as the majority of words were self explanatory in their context. The use of slang is obviously something real from the streets but glossaries are dangerous things because they can switch a reader off.
But of course that only highlights the main problem which is the consequences of no longer being part of that community. Guene writes with wit and a voice that is so clearly that of someone not prepared to accept second best. It comes through in her books and as I saw when she spoke at the World Literature Weekend it comes through in her personality.