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Secret Son

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  726 ratings  ·  160 reviews
Raised by his mother in a one-room house in the slums of Casablanca, Youssef El Mekki has always had big dreams of living another life in another world. Suddenly his dreams are within reach when he discovers that his father-whom he'd been led to believe was dead-is very much alive. A wealthy businessman, he seems eager to give his son a new start. Youssef leaves his mother ...more
Paperback, 291 pages
Published 2009 by Viking
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If I had to sum this book up in one quick phrase, it would be: hauntingly beautiful.

Lalami's writing style is beautiful. Sophisticated but not too over the top. Easy to read, but not juvenile. The story itself I could not stop reading. Youssef's relationships with his mother, his friends, and his new-found father are at times heartbreaking. There is a lot of emotion in his story and Lalami knows how to write it well. Despite being heartbroken, I could not stop reading.

Then there is the political
Lisa Vegan
This book has such an enjoyable writing style; it’s very accessible and the book is a really quick read, and a pleasant read, despite its tragic subject matter. This book had a good mix of the personal and political, heavy on the personal, which I liked.

I got a great feel for various parts of Morocco and what it feels like to be an immigrant. I admired how while parts of this story are about big issues, the significance of the psychological aspects of family, including what’s happened in past g
Apr 07, 2009 Bill rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone, especially anyone interested in Morocco
In this superb short novel, Laila Lalami deftly limns the rise and fall of Youssef El Mekki, unacknowledged bastard son of prominent businessman, disillusioned activist, and bon vivant Nabil El Amrani. Seemingly sprung from the trap of the Casablanca slums when he learns that his father, far from being dead, is in fact a Moroccan tycoon, Youssef is soon caught in a complex web of familial and political intrigue. A mark of this novel's quality is its ability to portray what for many Americans is ...more
Pamela Pickering
4.5 Stars! After reading some of the other reviews I wish I could be as eloquent as they have been but alas, I am not a writer--just a simple reader. Nevertheless, I continue. I was surprised at how taken I was with this novel. Would I have picked it up off a bookseller's shelf? I'm not sure. However, I certainly appreciated Lalami's writing style and found her stark descriptions of modern Morocco, it's culture, and its struggles quite captivating. Gently, Lalami pulled me into Youseff's life an ...more
Disappointing. Writing was simplistic, dialogue unimaginative, plot unbelievable. Possibly if you had no exposure to other parts of the world you might learn something. But there are so many books that do a much better job of this (Brick Lane, The Inheritence of Loss for example). Disappointed that it was chosen by Seattle Public Library for it's Seattle Reads promotion. I only finished it because it was easy reading and my book club chose it because it was part of Seattle Reads. Seattle would b ...more
My thoughts:
• I was not quite sure what to expect when I started reading Secret Son, but I was quickly drawn into the story and found myself captivated by the writing and the journey of the sensitive naïve nineteen year old protagonist, Youssef.
• I wondered about the quote included before the start of the story – “The fact that I/am writing to you/ in English/already falsifies what I wanted to tell you.” (from Cuban American port Gustavo Perez Firmat) but it made more sense when I learned that t
Secret Son tells the story of Youseff El Mekki.

He has grown up in the slums of Casablanca with his mother, and now he is going to college, working and dreaming of a better life.

He believes that his father died in an accident, before he was born, before he had a chance to marry his mother. But he discovers that story is not true, it was a fabrication by his mother to try to protect them both. His father is very much alive.

Indeed he is a wealthy, if somewhat shady, businessman. A man who has a dau
Meh. Another lackluster choice for Seattle Reads (this is the pick for 2010). I really can't see what the book groups will have to talk about except (as one of my colleagues who shall remain unnamed commented) all the ways this book doesn't work. As a family drama/tragedy it's not bad reading, especially the mother/son relationship (I felt that the father/daughter relationship was completely predictable and embodied all of the worst cliches about patriarchal societies). But the social critiques ...more
Kate Vane
Youssef is bright but poor. He lives in a one-room shack in Casablanca with his mother. She is an outsider in the slum, poor but educated and working as a nurse. She has encouraged Youssef to study and now he is at university. He dreams of belonging and of his dead father.

Except through a series of events he learns that his father is not dead. Soon he meets him and becomes part of his affluent world. He spends time in his father’s smart apartment and wears good clothes. But he has walked away f
Bleh. I'm surprised this book has received so many stars. While the story was decent (sort of), the writing certainly wasn't - seemed kind of amateurish.
Elevate Difference
Having read Laila Lalami’s short fiction collection Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, I was thrilled to find out she was working on her first novel, Secret Son. Often when I read first-time novelists, I notice some difficulty with dialogue (my own biggest downfall when I’m writing fiction), awkward clichés, and pages of text that don’t really keep the story moving. Lalami managed to escape all these snares and Secret Son is a joy from the beginning to the end.

On her personal blog, Lalami says s
Youssef El-Mekki grew up in Casablanca, in the slums of Hay An Najat where houseflies "grazed on piles of trash, competing with cows and sheep for tea grounds, vegetable peels, and empty containers of yogurt." One young man by circumstance, another by birthright, at nineteen Youssef learns shocking details about his real father that thrust him into a world of sudden luxuries, luxuries that at once elevate his circumstances and separate him from the places and people he loves.

Amal Amrani, by cont
Wow. Did not actually see that coming...the ending destroyed me. I loved this book, couldn't put it down and if there were a way to give it 4.5 stars, I would.

Loved the setting - I knew absolutely nothing about modern-day Morocco (I have to say I'd be a bit afraid to go there after reading this)(I love to travel, but my travel is pretty sanitized; for my more exotic destinations I'm more of an armchair traveler). Anyway, this novel was a heartbreaker, and unpredictable, and evocative. It would
Beautifully written book, set in Casablanca, Morocco. Youssef grew up in the slums of Casablanca, finished high school, and was ready to start his first year of college. Then he found out who is father was and his life changed forever.

Secret Son reminded me of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Great Expectations.
At 19, Youssef El Mekki discovers he is actually Youssef Amrani, the illegitimate child of a rich man. His father had an affair with a servant. When the girl got pregnant the mother threw her out of the house. When Youssef meets his father, the dad gives him money and allows him to live his apartment that he keeps for affairs. So the young man went from poverty to richess. Back in the slum where he lived with his mother he was being primed to join a fumdamentalist cell with terrorist asperations ...more
Sep 20, 2009 Lillian rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Monica Ali
Recommended to Lillian by: This is the 'Seattle Reads' selection for 2010
Youssef El Mekki has been raised by his mother in a one room house in the slums of Casablanca. At eighteen our hero discovers that his father, whom he thought dead was a very alive and wealthy businessman. They finally meet and learn about each other but learn more about themselves.
I thought this story only mildly interesting and overtly predictable with far too many coincidences. It is curious that it received such critical acclaim including a starred review. The most appealing aspect was the s
Got no real feeling of Morocco from the book. The conversations were rather stilted and characters either cliched or undefined. The plot was predictable. The book started with a definition of poor life and ended up even more hopeless with a look at the other end of the spectrum briefly in between. Would the main character have been better off having had no knowledge of his errant father? To spice things up it may have been a twisty plot if the main character had met his half sister and their rel ...more
I was so excited when I found out I won this book from the GoodReads giveaways. The book came rather quickly directly from the publisher.
This was written by a Moroccan author who lives in California. I enjoyed the book. I could imagine some of the descriptions having been to Morocco. The main character Youssef lives in the slums outside of Casablanca. I liked the character Youssef and overall thought the book was good. However, I was a little disappointed in the ending of the book.
Lalami also p
The book gains in beauty and intensity and heartbreak as it gets going. What I love about Lalami's novel is that it more or less equates ruthless West-oriented capitalists and Saudi-loving fundamentalists (while never resorting to caricature with regards to either). Everybody preys on innocence. Lalami's sympathies are with young people (and how well she depicts their inner world!), and none of the adults, not even Youssef's hard-working, sagacious mother Rachida, realizes the danger of requirin ...more
Jason Lundberg
Once again, Lalami brings Morocco to life as a vibrant conflicted country, with a deep heritage in both the East and West. Youssef el-Mekki is a Casablancan slum-dweller on his way to uni; smart and resourceful, and fatherless, or so he thinks. Lalami's prose is thoughtful and evocative, revealing her setting as similar to the wildly lively cities of India or Turkey. There are no easy answers for her characters, and hearts and lives are easily broken. A wonderful follow-up to Hope & Other Da ...more
Stilted soap opera After reading 'The Moor's Account' I came across this book as a recommendation. I definitely felt 'Moor' was a superior effort, but some of the same problems that plagued that book is apparent here. Youssef is a young man who was raised by a single mother and without having luxuries that some of his friends and classmates had. He lives in a poor neighborhood, is sad because his father died before really being able to establish any relationship with him and is set to just drift ...more
Aoitif Mourchid
Lalami has said she chooses to write in English partly because she wants to speak directly to Americans, who read few translated books but urgently need authentic maps to those parts of the world where inequality has electroshocked the terrorist id into being. “Secret Son” provides one such map as it explores the dysfunctional politics and dispossessed psyches that allow militant Islamists to win easy converts in a Casablanca slum, where every day the government fails its people. The novel chron ...more
This book has many strengths (esp its vivid descriptions) and I felt the author did a great job of conveying how it must feel to be torn apart by conflicting desires/values. But in the end, for me the story lacked the complexity and the depth which would have made it an outstanding book. A bit too predictable when it should not have been, and not so believable at other times when it should have been. A good effort though and I think the author's talent clearly comes across.
Quick and compelling read, I just felt like I was reading a young adult book. I also hate the title and thought the storyline was a bit too soap-opera like for me. I liked the setting in Morocco, was mildly interested in the politics and family dynamics set up throughout but mostly felt it was contrived. Fast and pleasant enough to read but easily forgettable.
Simply, Secret Son is passionate and exciting. The reader drops into Lalami's Morocco and begins to recognize the the city and the people. It becomes home a home within words.

The plot constantly pushes forward and the characters are compelling and complex. It's hard to finish because you want it to keep going.
This is a below-average story about the pain, suffering, and despair of abject poverty. The author gets into the problems with a society where opportunities for growth and personal pride in education and worth are thwarted by generations of poverty. But the issues are only superficially addressed and the author isn't skilled enough to make the impact this topic deserves. I've been to Morocco and hoped that the novel would remind me of the beauty and disparities of the country. It didn't because ...more
This novel was a disappointment especially since it was selected by the Seattle Library for the city to read this year. Formulaic and yet the total despair of young people in Morocco did still get to me.
This book is both disappointing and haunting at the same time. It's disappointing in that I wanted to enjoy it more and felt that there were a lot of readers who had rated it rather highly. Perhaps those ratings increased my expectations unfairly. It is a haunting book though telling the story of a boy, Youssef who unfortunately is a victim of sorts of his country, his class and his family. Living in Morocco he dreams of a better life, out of the slums, and given the opportunity he doesn't reall ...more
Regina Sheerin
See, I loved this. No word wasted and illustrates very clearly how those born into poverty are subject, often cruelly, to the turns of Fortuna's wheel. I crossed paths with a family of poor Morroccan immigrants and I was stunned at how full of despair their lives are- not much hope in that house. This book reminds me so clearly of the day I spent in their house after picking the daughter up and driving her back home. What we take for granted is beyond the reach of many. This book illustrates thi ...more
Laila Lalami’s debut novel Secret Son enters the streets and houses of both the wealthy and poor of modern day Casablanca. Through the eyes of characters young and old, Lalami works to illustrate the struggles of identity and the reconciliation of class, politics and beliefs within Morocco.

In the slums of Casablanca, Youssef El Mekki lives with his mother. She is a widow, working in a hospital to support her only son. Youssef is thoughtful, excels at school, and though he wishes he had grown up
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Laila Lalami was born and raised in Morocco. She is the author of the short story collection Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, and the novel Secret Son, which was on the Orange Prize longlist. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The Nation, the Guardian, the New York Times, and in numerous antho ...more
More about Laila Lalami...
The Moor's Account Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits Season of Migration to the North The Granta Book of the African Short Story A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection

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“He needed time to adjust to real life, where heroes and villains could not be told apart by their looks or their accents, where there were no last minute reversals of fortune.” 6 likes
“His anger took many shapes: sometimes soft and familiar, like a round stone he had caressed for so long that is was perfectly smooth and polished; sometimes it was thin and sharp like a blade that could slice through anything; sometimes it had the form of a star, radiating his hatred in all directions, leaving him numb and empty inside.” 5 likes
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