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Last Updated on September 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 637

Hope and the Immigrant Experience

The novel's four main characters risk the journey for different reasons, but it is the hope for a better life that motivates them all to take action. They may not know exactly what they will find, but their hope for a brighter future keeps them...

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Hope and the Immigrant Experience

The novel's four main characters risk the journey for different reasons, but it is the hope for a better life that motivates them all to take action. They may not know exactly what they will find, but their hope for a brighter future keeps them going; they refuse to remain stagnant in their current unfavorable circumstances.

Murad and Aziz are underemployed young men who are trying to find a more financially secure path in life. It is the hope for better job opportunities that drives them to risk crossing illegally into Spain.

Halima is a homemaker with three children whose dream of a better life means no longer being subjected to physical violence by her alcoholic husband; she wants to escape the slums of Casablanca with her children. When her efforts to improve the situation fail, she comes up with a daring plan to leave the country. So great is her desire for a higher quality of life that she risks not only her own life, but those of her children.

Faten is driven away from Morocco by social circumstances that have made it difficult for her to remain there. As a woman with strict religious views and customs, her influence on the daughter of an influential bureaucrat is unwelcome, and he ruins her scholastic and legal standing. She so desperately wants to escape this disaster that she leaves everything behind. Faten is motivated by her belief that life in Spain will be an improvement, even though there is no way to know this for sure.

The Necessity of Courage

The four central characters, and the others who join them on the treacherous journey to Spain, are not the only people in Morocco who wish for a better life; however, they were brave enough to get onto the boat, leaving everything they knew behind in search of a more stable future. This requires a great deal of courage—and even more so under such risky circumstances. Courage is what makes it possible for the characters to risk the crossing and face the unknown rather than resign themselves to misery.

Furthermore, it requires great courage for Halima and Murad to return to their home country after they discover that life in Spain isn’t what they wanted after all. Rather than admitting defeat, these two characters bravely travel back to Morocco and build better lives for themselves with the resources available to them.

Disillusionment versus Contentment

While the prospect of life in Spain initially seems like a magical solution to the characters in the book, the reality of life in a new country is vastly different from what they expected. Deceived and taken advantage of from the start by the boat captain, who does not keep his promise of letting the passengers off at the shore, the immigrants are endangered through the greed and treachery of others.

Lalami shows that life as an immigrant who has entered a new country illegally can be one of vulnerability and exploitation. Captured and thrown into jail by the Spanish Civil Guard, Faten compromises her values by offering sexual favors and later survives the streets of Spain by making a living as a sex worker—an ironic outcome given her strict moral values. Aziz remains in Spain, only to scrape by as a busboy, paying the price of separation from his beloved wife.

The disappointment experienced by those who remain in Spain is contrasted with the relative contentment experienced by the two characters who return to Morocco and manage to carve out a new niche for themselves in their native land. The college-educated Murad obtains a job in a gift shop and finds meaning in having the opportunity to share tales of his culture with appreciative tourists, and Halima finds peace when she is able to divorce her abusive husband.

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