One of the delights of the LRB weekend world literature festival earlier this summer was the appearance of Faiza Guene. You half expected someone who had penned a best seller at the age of 17 to wander in and dominate the proceedings with s sulky and spoilt air. What arrived was a woman, now in her mid twenties, who was full of opinions, insights and inspiration for anyone who has ever thought that breaking into the world of literature was an impossibility.
Her first book has the feeling of being written by a 17 year old in terms of the issues it deals with concerned with teenage love and the question of sorting out a life and a career. What makes Just Like Tomorrow interesting for a man who has long since left his teenage years behind him (myself as a reader) is the world the story is set in.
Guene takes you in to a world of immigrants living in the Parisian slums. Doria lives with her mum, who barely speaks French and works in the down at heel Formula 1 motel. The mother and daughter are seen by their relatives in Algeria as being in a luxurious position but it doesn’t feel like that for Doria. Side stepping the pitfalls of immigrant poverty are described with great humour but there is a serious message underneath.
The way that Doria interacts with social workers, the drug dealers on the estate and her career advisors indicates that for those less determined and more vulnerable life really would close in on them. On top of that going home is no escape because there women are treated as second rate citizens and the horizons are even more limited than in France.
In terms of giving a voice to someone from a world that most of us would never experience and a life that most of us would never live this is a book that manages to slip under the radar and leave you pondering some large questions.
The only criticism that could be leveled against it is perhaps the length with it feeling short and perhaps the idea that love can change the world is done in a slightly too obvious way. But those are minor criticisms really and overall perhaps the main feeling you get on closing the last chapter is one of respect for someone who really did come from that background and used her own talents to escape and do better.