>by Laila Lalami
What an excellent book this is. Tied brilliantly together by the opening chapter (“The Trip”), this collection (novel in stories?) reveals the lives of four characters before and after their attempt to emigrate from Morocco to Spain. “Characters” scarcely feels like the right word here, though; these people (Murad, Aziz, Faten, Halima) are rendered in such detail, emotionally more than physically, that they seem real, and their respective plights seem absolutely real. Faten is a good example. We glimpse her first in “The Trip” but then see her more clearly in “The Fanatic,” in which she is a devout college girl wearing hijab and persuading other girls to follow her example. Later, in the fabulous story “Odalisque,” she has managed to get to Spain but has to work as a prostitute to support herself. The reader knows this isn’t the real Faten, and comes to understand that the fanatic wasn’t the real Faten either, and the resulting portrait of a struggling woman from her circumstances is chillingly vivid and credible.