Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

by Laila Lalami

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Last Updated on September 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 686

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits was written by Laila Lalami, who was born and raised in Morocco. As the story opens, we meet four Moroccans—Murad, Halima, Aziz, and Faten—attempting to cross the border from Morocco to Spain via the Strait of Gibraltar. These four are part of a larger group aboard an overloaded, flimsy boat, and all is going according to plan until the captain announces that he will not ferry the passengers to shore. The Moroccans struggle to make it to shore, and upon arrival, all except Aziz are caught and jailed.

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The book is more of a collection of short stories than a novel with a cohesive plot. After the harrowing crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar in the first chapter, readers are taken back to Morocco to the events that led to the characters' decisions to emigrate, as well as forward in time to the characters’ lives following the crossing.

Murad is the first character whose story is introduced, as he is the narrator of the book. He is an affable and intelligent man with a college degree who feels stifled at home. Murad is working as an ad-hoc tourist guide for rich travelers, especially those interested in American novelist Paul Bowles, who famously wrote The Sheltering Sky in 1949, when he and his wife lived in Tangier. Murad, who is making very little money, feels that he is destined for greater things. He is also weary of living an impoverished life and fantasizes about the material wealth he may be able to gain in Europe.

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The next character introduced is Halima, the mother of three children and the wife of an abusive husband. Halima is intent on escaping her relationship with her husband, who constantly mistreats her. Since Halima also has young children and is in a precarious financial position, leaving her husband—and Casablanca—is easier said than done.

The third character whose story is introduced is Aziz, a young man who decides that he must risk the journey to Spain so that he might find better opportunities for the future, even if that means leaving his loving wife behind. This is Aziz's second attempt to cross into Spain. Aziz sees no future for himself in Morocco; he has not had much luck academically, but he is handy at fixing things, and this skill serves him well when he is able to fix the motor on the broken boat to Spain.

Finally, Faten is revealed to be a young Islamist woman whom readers never hear from directly; they only hear of her through her good friend Noura's parents. The more time Noura spends with Faten, the more Noura seems to be determined to follow Faten's lead and adopt her extreme viewpoints. Faten has chosen to wear the hijab, and soon Noura is wearing one as well. Noura’s parents are unhappy with Faten’s impact on their daughter, and they make life in Morocco for Faten increasingly difficult in an attempt to drive her out of their daughter’s life.

The more readers learn about these individuals and their plights, the more they begin to understand what drives them to take this enormous risk, especially when there is no guarantee of their safety on the journey—nor of their prosperity once they reach Spain. After being captured by the police on the shore in Spain, Halima and Murad are sent back to Morocco. Faten manages to stay in Spain, but she only does so by compromising her strict religious morals and becoming a sex worker to survive.

In the end, Faten and Aziz end up staying in Spain, while Halima and Murad must be content to remain in Morocco. Murad and Halima are able to make peace with their situations and find some contentment in their home country, while Aziz and Faten realize that they no longer truly fit in anywhere. Murad finds a job in tourism that allows him to tell stories about his culture, with which he makes peace; Harim is able to get a divorce and live a life with her children apart from her abusive ex-husband.

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