Zuzana Kratka reviews

Just Like Tomorrow: How Can Life Be So Bad When You’re Living in Paradise?

By Faïza Guène

Random House, London, 226 pp, pbk. ISBN: 978-1-862-30158-0

Dreams from the Endz

By Faïza Guène

Vintage, London, 2009, 176 pp, pbk. ISBN: 978-0-099-51292-9

Hopes and dreams for a good life

Witty, funny, extremely moving, clever and very well written, Just Like Tomorrow is Faïza Guène’s first novel. Born in 1985 into an Algerian family residing on a housing estate on the outskirts of Paris, Guène started writing at the age of 13 when she was involved in a publicly financed cultural project that offered film and writing workshops. Interested in screenplay writing, Guène directed and produced her first short film ‘La Zonzonerie’ by the age of 14 and wrote Just Like Tomorrow at the age of 17. The novel was immediately acclaimed by general and literary press in France, qualifying her appearance on the French literary scene as the ‘birth of the true talent’ (Journal du Dimanche). Faïza Guène was selected as one of the 39 young Arab authors of the Beirut39 project celebrating the best in contemporary literature from young Arab authors, while Beirut is WorldBook Capital 2009-2010.

Doria is a fifteen-year-old teenager living on a housing estate in a Paris suburb, struggling between the challenges of her own broken home and the social prejudices attached to her North African background, set within the social and politicalcontext of contemporary France. Doria’s father left her mother to marry a younger woman who is due to give birth to his son in his native Morocco. Her mum works as a cleaner in a cheap hotel outside Paris and Doria attends a school “en zone de difficulté” as they officially call the schools attended by high percentage of children from a “challenging social background” in France.

The book represents snaps from the everyday life of a teenage girl as well as social and political observations presented in the light of a harsh reality, but with a great sense of humour. Once a week, Doria sees her therapist Mrs Burlaud and after school babysits little Sarah, a four-year-old girl from the estate. Sarah’s mother Lily is a divorced, single mother who eventually starts dating Doria’s secret crush, Hamoudi. Doria, however, has another suitor, Nabil, whom she dislikes at first but then falls for. In short, this beautiful book evokes the all-important moments in every girl’s life: first love, first kiss, first day back at school and the desire to realize one’s dreams – as well as offering a street-wise, on the-nail commentary-cum-exposé on life for poor immigrant communities in France. It ends on a firm note of hope for the future with a glimpse of Doria maturing into a young woman eager to take control of her life and make things better. In contrast, Guène’s second book Du rêve pour les oufs, English title Dreams from the Endz, has the much angrier and a more bitter tone of 24-year old Ahlème, who had to grow up fast in order to look after her aging father and keep her impressionable teenage brother Foued out of trouble. Ahlème’s mother died in a village massacre back in Algeria some 13 years before, after which Ahlème and Foued moved to France to join their father – or Bossas Ahlème calls him – on a housing estatein the Paris suburb of Ivry.

In Ivry, life is a struggle. Between long queues at the Préfecture (French immigration office) where fellow Arab, Eastern European and African immigrants wait long hours to obtain or renew their residency permits, constant job searching and rejections, attending parents’ meetings at Foued’s school – usually to be told about her brother’s bad behaviour and the strong possibility of his being expelled – and then Boss’s illness, Ahlème has only a little time to meet with her friends Nawel and Linda over a couple of espressos and share with them her latest disappointments in love.

After Foued gets involved with a local criminal gang and Ahlème discovers he has been hiding stolen merchandise in their flat, she decides it is time to show her brother their roots and the essence of real life back in Algeria, but visiting relatives and observing the life of poor children running around their native village, Ahlème realizes she feels like a foreigner in her own country. And, even though her life is now in France, where she has her closest friends and where she has now found stable employment too, she knowsshe will always remain an immigrant there.

Guène has an extremely entertaining writing style, using a colloquial language that one can hear every day and every hour on the streets of Paris but that is very rarely used in writing. In this aspect both Guène and Sarah Ardizzone who translated both titles into English, are literary geniuses. Partly written in verlan, French slang that mixes up syllables inside words, Ardizzone found a way of making Guène’s style authentic in English, using a variety of techniques from contemporary English slang. Sarah Ardizzone was awarded the Scott-Moncrieff Prize for her translation of Just Like Tomorrow as well as winning, in 2005, the March Award for her translation of Daniel Pennac’s Eye of the Wolf. Faïza Guène’s third novel Les gens du Balto was published by Hachette Littératures in August 2008.

From Banipal 37 - Iraqi Authors

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