Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

by Laila Lalami

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Last Updated on October 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 545

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, written in 2005, is author Laila Lalami's in-depth and personal look at her own Moroccan culture, as she considers what compels people less fortunate than herself to risk illegal immigration.

Born in Morocco to a family that encouraged her education and goals, Lalami was able to study abroad and earn university degrees in both England and the United States, focusing on linguistics. Aware that one's place of birth and life circumstances often determine their opportunities in life, she seeks to learn more about why some people are willing to resort to illegal immigration to seek a better life.

A news story about fifteen Moroccans who drowned trying to reach the shores of Spain inspired Lalami to write Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. With an in-depth understanding of Moroccan culture and its social milieu, she crafted an unusually structured novel in which the reader can experience the perspectives of four different characters who make a treacherous sea journey on an ill-equipped boat toward the promised land: Spain.

This novel is divided into three sections: ”The Trip," "Before," and "After." While it may read at times more like a series of short stories than a novel, this format offers a comprehensive understanding of each of the four main characters and the respective circumstances and motivations that led them to undertake such a risky journey.

The characters are primarily motivated by a desire to escape the prevalent social ills of their home country, including underemployment, domestic violence, and the unjust destruction of academic and legal standing. The stories of fame and success to be achieved abroad are often told back in their hometowns. This—along with the geographic proximity of the Spanish coast, which is a mere ten miles across the Mediterranean—creates an idealized and tantalizing image of what life might be like outside of Morocco.

The author, however, makes it clear that the reality of immigration is not glamorous. Disillusionment and bitterness are the natural outcomes of living undocumented in the shadows of a new and unfamiliar society. The characters discover that the problems and challenges of their hometowns that they sought to escape may be exchanged for new and, in some cases, more unpleasant circumstances. Their chances of success in a new country are greatly hindered by their inherent vulnerability as new and undocumented immigrants; since they cannot turn to the authorities or government for help, they must attempt to survive on their own in an environment where many people who are all too ready to take advantage of them. We see this dynamic play out in the story of Aziz, who becomes a career busboy, and Faten, a former religious conservative who earns a living by providing sex to Spanish men.

The lucky ones in this story are those characters who manage to return home: Murad and Halima. They are eventually able to restructure their lives for the better within their society of origin, even though the ideal circumstances and life they had hoped and dream for never arise. In exploring the journey's of these characters, Lalami acknowledges the difficult dynamics of illegal immigration and humanizes the hopes and struggles of migrants from her own culture—people who are often discussed on the international stage in abstract and impersonal terms.

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