Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

by Laila Lalami

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits is a 2005 novel written by Moroccan American novelist and essayist Laila Lalami. It is the author’s first novel and tells the stories of four different individuals who share one goal: to emigrate from Morocco to Spain, in the hopes of finding better job opportunities and living a better life.

Lalami writes of the immigrant experience and her characters’ drive and motivation to keep moving forward, despite the various challenges and obstacles that life throws at them. Her main idea is to make readers understand the various socioeconomic, religious, political, and personal reasons which compel the characters to leave their country and even risk their lives to reach their desired destination. However, Lalami also wishes to impart the message that life is unpredictable, and one must always expect the unexpected.

The first character we meet is Murad; he is described as a well-educated young man who occasionally works as a tour guide. He plans to go to Spain in the hopes of finding a job where he can use his degree in English. After he realizes that life in Spain is not what he expected, he moves back to Morocco.

It’s worth it, though, Murad tells himself. Some time on this flimsy boat and then a job. It will be hard at first. He’ll work in the fields like everyone else, but he’ll look for something better. He isn’t like the others—he has a plan. He doesn’t want to break his back for the spagnol, spend the rest of his life picking their oranges and tomatoes. He’ll find a real job, where he can use his training. He has a degree in English and, in addition, he speaks Spanish fluently, unlike some of the harraga.

Even after he took the job, Murad couldn’t help but wonder what lay ahead. If he hadn’t set foot in Spain, it would have been easier to dismiss his fantasies of what could have been; but he had made it to Tarifa, so every day he daydreamed about the life he thought he would have had. Now, he realized, he’d had it wrong.

Aziz is a determined and handy young man who decides to move to Spain in order to provide for his family. When he returns to Morocco five years later, he convinces himself that he has to go back to Spain, because it's not fair to sacrifice all that he achieved there just to be home with his family.

I am coming back,” Aziz said, his thumb on his chest.
“He will,” Zohra said. She took her handkerchief from the sleeve of her jellaba and blew her nose in it. Aziz felt his guilt at leaving her behind pick at him again, and he put his hand on her knee and squeezed it gently.
What did she expect of him? He couldn’t give up an opportunity to work just so he could be at home with her. Did she have any idea what he’d gone through to make it in Spain? He couldn’t give it all up now. He had to go back.

Faten is a very religious young woman who wishes to move to Spain in order to escape from Larbi, a rich man who tries to make her life as difficult as possible because his daughter, Noura, has started to accept Faten’s religious views and opinions. Ironically, Faten is forced to abandon her religious values and become a sex worker in order to survive in Spain.

Faten had moved in with her mother in the Douar Lhajja slum, the kind of place where couscous...

(This entire section contains 923 words.)

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pots were used as satellite dishes. She’d stayed there for six years—and in that short time she had managed to graduate high school, go to college, find God, and join the Islamic Student Organization. She’d had the misfortune of making a derogatory comment about King Hassan within earshot of a snitch but had, rather miraculously, escaped arrest, thanks to a friendly tip. So when her imam suggested she leave the country, she had not argued with him. She had done as she was told. Except her imam wasn’t there when the Spanish coast guard caught her and the other illegal immigrants, nor was he around when she had to fend for herself in Spain. Now no one could decide for her whether or not she could see Martín.

Halima is a mother of three who wants to move to Spain to escape from an abusive marriage and a life of poverty. In the end, she decides to move back to Morocco and finally manages to divorce her alcoholic husband, Maati.

But Maati didn’t hit her. Instead, he stuffed a piece of paper in her hand. “If this is all you wanted,” he said, “now you have it.” And, as if to punctuate his declaration, he spit on her. The phlegm landed on her shirt, but all Halima could see was the divorce paper, with the elegant penmanship and unmistakable signature of the ‘aduls at the bottom. He turned around and left.

Halima stood, stunned. The fear that had knotted her stomach at the sight of her now ex-husband subsided, and in its stead she felt the rush of blood to her temples. This feeling of elation was entirely new to her. She had tried everything to get this piece of paper, and when she least expected it, it had been delivered right to her doorstep.