Secret Son by Laila Lalami

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Secret Son by Laila Lalami

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Nikki Edwards
Reviewed by Nikki Edwards
Summary: A simple and very readable story about a young man's struggle to carve an identity for himself in contemporary Morocco.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: February 2010
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670918294

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Secret Son is the story of Youssef El-Mekki, the slum-dwelling teenage son of single mother Rachida. Youssef has always been told that his father is dead, so when he finds out his mother has lied to conceal the fact that he was born out of wedlock, he plunges headlong into an identity crisis. He tracks down his real father, a wealthy businessman called Nabil Amrani who is surprisingly enthusiastic about his illegitimate son's arrival. Nabil has recently fallen out with his daughter and he seizes this opportunity to mould Youssef into the obedient son he has always wanted.

Suddenly, Youssef has a way out of slum life, though it comes at a price. He is his father's guilty secret, hidden away in a luxury flat, masquerading as a distant nephew when Nabil's important friends come round to talk politics. He is estranged from his mother and his friends and he drops out of university to work at his father's hotel. Nabil insists that, without wealth and influence, a degree is a waste of time and, looking at the corruption that goes on in his father's world, Youssef is inclined to agree with him.

Meanwhile, religious fundamentalism is sweeping the slums, beguiling disenfranchised young men with the promise of better days ahead if they put their faith in Islam. There is trouble afoot for Youssef, that much is clear. It is simply a question of which direction it will come from first.

I wasn't quite sure how to react to this book. On the one hand, it was readable, accessible and full of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat. On the other hand, there was something lacking at the heart of it. I always felt that I was looking at the characters from the outside in, Youssef especially. I didn't feel that Lalami revealed his motivations properly, even at the end. I would also have liked the author to throw a little more light on Rachida as she was, for me, the most intriguing character in the book.

Despite those objections, Secret Son is a very agreeable read and a fascinating snapshot of life in contemporary Morocco. It would be a good choice for the bus or the beach but it just didn't dazzle me in the way I hoped it might.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then you might also enjoy A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman.

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Buy Secret Son by Laila Lalami at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Secret Son by Laila Lalami at


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