Mary's Reviews > Secret Son

Secret Son by Laila Lalami
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Jun 08, 09

Read in May, 2009

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 contrast, grew up a daughter of privilege and means. When she moves to the States and defies her wealthy parents' wishes, she is cut off both emotionally and financially. Later, in a gesture of reconciliation and renewed support, her parents cross the ocean to witness her graduation. Amal holds the door open for them at the end of a visit, "forgetting that Moroccans do not open doors for departing guests for fear of giving the impression that the guests are unwelcome." It is a striking symbol of how much her new life has changed her.

Exhibiting two very different approaches to filial duty, Amal reluctantly returns to Casablanca to reestablish her position in the family, leaving her new love behind in the States; Youssef embraces his newfound father's world of wealth and status, leaving his mother behind in the slums. Repercussions from the secret that Amal and Youssef have both borne for years--each without knowing it--ultimately cause them to question the very foundations of duty, loyalty, and love. In the end, both must choose. Both must declare their allegiance. Unfortunately for Youssef, his choice (which is no choice at all) hastens his descent into a shadowy religious underworld where faith is a weapon and all believers must be tested.

At its heart, Secret Son is a gorgeously rendered and heartbreaking tale of longing and belonging, of finding--and also leaving behind---the people and places we call home.
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message 3: by Bonnie (new) - added it

Bonnie I often like debut novels, and this sounds interesting. I was wondering: did you get a sense of modern-day Morocco while reading the story? (It's a country I haven't been to - yet!) :)


Mary Oh, absolutely!! I could smell and see and hear it. :)


message 1: by Bonnie (new) - added it

Bonnie Oh, good! And I just checked: it's in cataloging at the library so I have put in a request. Thanks, Mary! :)


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