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Secret Son

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  1,386 ratings  ·  241 reviews
Youssef el-Mekki, a young man of nineteen, is living with his mother in the slums of Casablanca when he discovers that the father he believed to be dead is, in fact, alive and eager to befriend and support him. Leaving his mother behind, Youssef assumes a life he could only dream of: a famous and influential father, his own penthouse apartment, and all the luxuries associa ...more
Hardcover, 291 pages
Published April 21st 2009 by Algonquin Books
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Average rating 3.47  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,386 ratings  ·  241 reviews

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Susan Abulhawa
Jun 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
fast read. well written. one son’s personal anguish cradled in Morocco’s class struggles and corruption among the ruling class. recommended reading.
Lisa  (not getting friends updates) 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
Fawaz Abdul rahman
I don't think as the description of this novel mentioned a journey of searching the meaning of life etc... neither I think that the author is experienced enough to write such a topic.
however, the author has done a good job describing the different lifestyles in Morocco, as well as pointing out the corruption and power of social classes there.
An other odd thing was when showing a conversation between 2, the questions and answers were different, it suppose to be showing the views and feelings.
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Growing up in the Casablanca slumps, Youssef is urged by he’s mother to pursue he’s education at college and try to better himself.
Youssef soon learns that he’s believed dead father is still alive, in fact he’s a wealthy businessman!

Given the choice of abandoning he’s past, Youssef has the opportunity to live a wealthy lifestyle.
Which will he choose?

A pretty simple story that highlights the gulf in the class divide, a well written novel which drew me in straight from the first chapter.
It gave a
Mar 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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
A little disappointing. The main character Youssef grows up without a father. He is poor but idle. He meets his previously thought dead father who is rich. A new world in open to him but this is soon removed and he is back in the poverty grove. He is tempted into a local Islamic group.
There is coverage of the sexist, class riddled life in Morocco and the temptations to rebel. But this book lacked tension, the characters just didn't do it for me. The plotting of the two mothers was a highlight.
Apr 12, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
The novel was a bit fast paced and talked about different “heavy matters” (religion, politics, family and identity issues,hierarchy in society and it is influence, ...), too much drama for my taste.

It was alright as an audiobook despite my general dislike to infidelity and lies in books😣...

It wasn’t boring, just not my taste and sometimes I was left confused.

I wonder how someone who doesn’t know Arabic and french think of the untranslated bits. -personally didn’t understand any of the french sen
Yousif Al Zeera
Clash of the classes. Not the easiest job ever to weave yourself through these lines. It all comes at a price, a hefty one usually.
Elevate Difference
May 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Pamela Pickering
Apr 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel-reading
I usually read the novels of the Arabic writers, to examine the impact of their culture on their writings.
This novel have clear theme of gender, immigration, religion and cultural conflict. The main theme is the root of the Islamic terrorism with clear reference to the planting society of this terrorism.
Despite the fact that the language is clear and simple, I found the language is dull.
All the characters make choices and are forced to live with the consequences of their decisions often with regret. Well-written and a quick read with very interesting characters.
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: litworld2018gb
#LitWorld2018GB Morocco
Strong plot, crystalline writing
Mar 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: borrowed
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
Jun 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 27, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 07, 2010 rated it did not like it
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. ...more
This one ended up being a 3.5 stars for me, rounded up from 3 because the writing is just lovely, and I could imagine myself walking through the streets of Casablanca, both parts of the city described in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two parts of the book, but found the last part rushed, and also that it fit together just a little bit too well (more on that below).

Youssef lives with his mother in a tiny tinned-roof shack in the slum of Hay an Najat in Casablanca. For most of his young
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a rich and complex novel. The characters are vivid and inherently tied to an engaging plot. I love the sense of place it creates, setting and emotion-wise. I do have to say that the ending felt like a cop out. It seemed like the author had come to the conclusion that any ending that resolved the novel would be a cheap trick and just decided to end it without really providing any sense of change. They were doomed at the beginning and they were doomed at the end. It just seemed to make les ...more
Laila Bourha
Mar 03, 2019 rated it liked it
What a sad book!
The way of even the most justifiable revolutions is prepared by personal impulses discussed into creeds. - Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

Read more:
Mar 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The following review initially posted on POD Book Reviews and More:

Youssef and his mother Rachida live in a one-room house with no windows and a tin roof held in place by stones in a Casablanca slum. When it rains, the roof leaks. When it’s not raining, they live in the yard beneath a sky as spacious as Youssef’s dreams.

When it rains, they carry their life back inside the whitewashed house: the divan, the food bowls, the clean clothes off the line, and th
Kate Vane
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Angelica Creixell
Oct 14, 2018 rated it liked it
For the full review and a short analysis of the gender gap and some initiatives or projects that are working to improve the situation of the women in Morocco visit:

What I felt while reading the novel — despair. Both in the characters and the description of the city and town, there is a sentiment of helplessness, especially amongst the youth. Youssef’s (the main character) struggles with life are described by comparing his hometown with his brief luxurious
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
Sep 17, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Feb 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jason Lundberg
Feb 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 Danger ...more
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Laila Lalami was born in Rabat and educated in Morocco, Great Britain, and the United States. She is the author of four novels, including The Moor's Account, which won the American Book Award, the Arab-American Book Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and The Other Americans, which was a national bestseller and a finalist for the National ...more

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