Each year, thousands of people from North and Central African states try to make it to Spain in a dangerous trip over the neck of water that is Gibraltar. Thus, one inflatable boat, one night and the four people whose paths had crossed for a short time on the boat are nothing out of the usual. Nor are the dangers: the capture or worse, drown in the attempt.
Four people. One boat. Four different backgrounds and four different ways to come to peace with their fortune.
Two people that make it. Aziz, a young man tired of living with his parents on his wife's income. Faten caught between her purist education, the bitterness of her impoverished environment and the effect that her sensual beauty has on men.
Two people that do not make it. Halima an abused wife and mother of three who is desperately trying to escape her abusive marriage and
Laila Lalami captures each characters' history as well as their life after the turning point which had been the inflatable boat with short narrations. The novel does not build around a complex plot and linear story line, but around fractured details of everyday life in Morocco as seen through the eyes of four different people. Her writing skill makes these stories flow one into another, and thus she creates for us a coherent image of contemporary Morroco with its diversity, its hope , its illusions and disillusions equally. Each narration points to significant details in Morocco’s culture and life. But none of them points us in one direction that overcomes all others. There is no right path or wrong path one needs to follow when reading this book. There is not one single aspect in the life of the four characters that topples all others.
And if they do meet at one point in a boat, in a desperate attempt to escape their history and find hope someplace new, someplace else they are to realize by the end of the novel that their answers are different because they are different too...
In short, I suggest this books to anyone who likes a good story or is interested about life in other cultures. And I'd pay attention to details, even though it is easy to get swept in by the storytelling and ignore them. Lalami found subtle ways to address sensible issues such as the cultural conflicts between East and West.