Friday, October 20, 2006

At the library I stumbled across Faiza Guene's JUST LIKE TOMORROW (In the USA published as KIFFE KIFFE TOMORROW). According to the publisher blurb it was "France's surprise publishing hit of 2004" selling over 100 000 copies; out for the first time in 2006 in an English translation. Doria is a teen with Moroccan roots, living on the Paradise estate in Seine-Saint-Denis, Paris. Her father has traded her illiterate, hardworking mother in for a younger model and gone back to the bled - the home country - as he wants a son. On benefits, and feeling largely out of place and teen angst-ridden, Doria struggles with her anger and sorrow over the break-up of her parents' marriage, and grapples with her isolation as a foreigner.

Elle magazine apparently described this as a "teenage Bridget Jones" (more cover publicity blurb, can you tell?!). I disagree. The teenage voice is strong and consistent. It is funny, but has none of the adult innuendo of Bridget Jones, and although Doria is somewhat confused about what she wants out of life (a typical teenager in other words), there is no artifice about her. The French author is herself only twenty, with a family originally from Algeria. She writes the world of North African immigrant experience in the Paris banlieues (outer districts), very specifically from a teenage point of view, and the book has overtones of the charmingly sensitive FIFTEEN by Beverley Cleary, sadly out of print these days.

What is remarkable, is the description of marginalized living. Widespread riots in France earlier in the year indicate just what effect living in these depressed and deprived communities has. Guene faithfully captures this experience, yet shows also humanity and humour in the characters portrayed. Her window onto estate life in western cities is faithfully captured. This immigrant experience is a much neglected subject in contemporary english language writing.

Keep an eye out for other work by Guene as there may be a more mature writer emerging. I certainly look forward to seeing what she writes next, as the passage below gives a potential taste of things to come:
When I was little and mum used to take me to the sandpit, none of the other kids wanted to play with me. I called it 'the French kids' sandpit' because it was bang in the middle of an estate with houses instead of tower blocks and they're mostly white French families. One time,they were all making a circle and wouldn't hold my hand because it was the day after Eid, the festival of the Sheep, and Mum had put some henna on the palm of my right hand. They were asking for a slapping, those morons: thought I was dirty.
Talk about no clue when it comes to diversity and melting pots. Then again, I guess it's not really their fault. There's a big divide between the Paradise estate where I live and the houses on the Rousseau estate. We're talking massive wire fencing that stinks of rust it's so old, plus a stone wall that runs the whole length. It's worse than the Maginot Line or the Berlin Wall. On our side, there's a load of tags, spray paintings and posters for concerts and different North African evenings, plus graffiti giving it up for Saddam Hussein or Che Guevara, patriotic signs, 'Viva Tunisia', 'Stand Up Senegal', even rap lyrics with a philosophical slant. But what I like best on the wall is an old drawing that's been there since back in the day, long before the rise of rap or the start of the war in Iraq. It's an angel in handcuffs with a red cross over its mouth.
The Guardian's Jason Burke has written here on Guene and the phenomenal success of her book.

This was enjoyable, light, "bath-time" reading for me. For adults, Ike Oguine's A SQUATTER'S TALE gives a far more nuanced account of African immigrant experience. I don't think JUST LIKE TOMORROW is adult fiction, but recommend it for older children and teenagers.

In my usual roundup of Mail & Guardian stories of the week, this one about where UK supermarkets get their cut flowers, and the water "stolen" to grow them, is horrifying in its implication. I do urge you to read it.

The awarding of a National Order to Andre Brink by President Thabo Mbeki resulted in a renewed focus on Brink, so his recent comments in interviews have reached a wider audience and hit a nerve. M&G reports that he wrote in Le Monde: 'he had in the past 12 years told those who had doubts over South Africa that the negatives of the transition period were of a temporary nature. "I can no longer say that today."'

Following this theme, in "Something is rotten in the Rainbow Nation" Chris Otton conveys concerns of some high profile South African writers about violence in the country - Andre Brink, Rian Malan, J.M. Coetzee, Christopher Hope and Nadine Gordimer. Their concerns are certainly not unique to white South Africans, however, and to some extent takes away from the seriousness of the matter at hand by implying it is a race issue.

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Blogger Lotus Reads said...

I just finished reading "Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow" and thought it was very effective in helping a reader understand what it is like being a teenager in the impoverished Paris Projects. Also, the book prompted me to read about the Paris riots - why and how they happened - and when a book prompts you to know more about a certain situation/s described in the book I consider the author has done his or her job!

Thank you for the other recommendations. I will definitely be putting "A Squatter's Tale" on my reading list.

12:28 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

John Lichfield wrote a really excellent article ("The Outsiders") on the Paris banlieue in the INDEPENDENT on October 26th. I'm not sure if you can access it online, but if you can, I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, I've recycled it already otherwise I'd send it to you.

Guene did a great job of capturing banlieue life.

6:38 pm  
Blogger Wessel said...

Nice blog, was wondering who implied that the SA crime situation is a race issue? Or is it because the authors are all white?

11:11 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Welcome Wessel. In Otton's article, he says it is the "literary elite of white South Africa" who are complaining about crime, and I feel that crime is hardly a white problem, and that most South Africans are concerned about it; definitely not a race issue!

5:17 pm  

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