Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
About the book:
The book begins as four Moroccans illegally cross the Strait of Gibraltar in an inflatable boat headed for Spain. There’s Murad, a gentle, educated man who’s been reduced to hustling tourists around Tangier; Halima, who’s fleeing her drunken husband and the slums of Casablanca; Aziz, who must leave behind his devoted wife to find work in Spain; and Faten, a student and religious fanatic whose faith is at odds with an influential man determined to destroy her future.
What has driven these men and women to risk their lives? And will the rewards prove to be worth the danger? Sensitively written with beauty and boldness, this is a gripping book about people in search of a better future.
About the author:
“A dream of a debut, by turns troubling and glorious, angry and wise.”—Junot Díaz, author of Drown
“In a book that feels as contemporary as a newspaper headline, that seems to explain so much . . . Lalami paints a vivid picture of modern-day Morocco as a place of dashed dreams and political repression.”—The Boston Globe
“[Lalami] packs her short chapters with action, suspense and characters that seem to come off the page[,] . . . people who dream of a better life and feel the need to leave their country to make their lives better. She is a sharp observer of the human condition, and she infuses her characters with universal emotions that make us see ourselves in these others.”—Chicago Tribune
“Lalami”s thrilling debut novel follows four desperate people . . . [on] a narrative journey that she handles with a keen sense of history, hope, and panache.”—Elle
In the haunting opening scene of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, a band of Moroccans sets off on a short but dangerous journey to Spain under the cover of night. There are thirty of them—men, women, and children—though their raft is only designed to accommodate eight. Each bears a silent history, a unique reason for fleeing native soil. Each one believes that the rewards of their three a.m. sojourn outweigh the risks. On the pages of Laila Lalami’s evocative debut novel, we follow four of these voyagers as they struggle with the longings and consequences surrounding that night. They grapple with fate and endurance, reality and illusion, while their very identities often clash with their dreams for the future.
Told in a series of vignettes, their stories illuminate a world that is by turns haunting and mesmerizing. The following questions and topics are designed to enhance your reading of Laila Lalami’s Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. We hope they will enrich your experience of this vibrant novel.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. How do the primary characters—Murad, Halima, Aziz, and Faten—see themselves before they attempt to enter Spain? Who are they, in their own minds? Who have they become by the novel’s closing scenes?
2. What is the effect of the novel’s time line? What is it like to read “Before” after reading the prologue, which reveals the trip’s outcome for the main characters? Would you have fled Morocco if you had been in their shoes?
3. What accounts for the friendship between Noura and Faten in “The Fanatic”? Is Noura simply going through a natural rebellion against her parents, or is there a greater significance to her rejection of them? How does her conversion speak to the animosity between religious and secular movements within Moroccan society, and within the Arab world in general? How does it reflect struggles between Islamic extremists and the secular West? How do these conflicts compare with religious conflicts in the United States, such as the fight over whether or not to use the Bible in courtrooms?
4. Should Halima have trusted the judge in “Bus Rides”? Does she live in a world in which divorce (and family law in general) are politicized, or is her dilemma strictly a consequence of culture? Do culture and politics mirror each other?
5. In the prologue, why does Aziz succeed while the other passengers do not? What sets him apart? What does his financial success in Spain cost him? How is his dream for the future different from his wife’s?
6. Why, ultimately, is the future so limited for Murad and others like him? What marketable skills does Murad demonstrate throughout the novel, and how would they benefit him in a more prosperous country? What ensures a country’s economic prosperity?
7. Is it Larbi’s fault that Faten has become a sort of odalisque (concubine) in “The Odalisque”? What might her fate have been if she had not been expelled from the university?
8. As Faten wonders whether Noura kept the hijab, she decides that she “was probably still wearing it. She was rich; she had the luxury of having faith …Noura also had the luxury of having no faith.” How do money and class factor into the novel’s story lines? What distinctions are made between those can legally go abroad, through universities or jobs in high-end industries, and those who cannot?
9. Look up the definition of “Moor” in multiple dictionaries. How do the definitions compare? What did you think the word meant before reading this novel?
10. Locate the Strait of Gibraltar, Tangier, and Casablanca on a map. What observations can you make about this region, in terms of size or topography? What did the novel teach you about the geography of this gateway between Europe and North Africa?
11. Murad makes part of his scant living by capitalizing on Westerners’ desires to retrace the steps of Paul Bowles or other Western authors who perpetuated the exoticism of Morocco. How do outsiders treat Morocco in fiction? How does Laila Lalami characterize her homeland?
12. How does Murad’s rendition of the enchanted-rug story serve as a metaphor in the novel’s closing scenes? What is exchanged between him and the tourists throughout “The Storyteller”?
13. Discuss the novel’s title. What is at the root of the characters’ hopelessness? What are their least dangerous pursuits?
14. What immigration stories exist in your family history? Can you envision a world so free of poverty and injustice that no one would feel compelled to risk his or her life for immigration? If you were forced to relinquish your current citizenship and flee to another nation, where would you want to go? What cultural price would you have to pay?