Secret Son by Laila Lalami

Youssef and his mother Rachida live in a one-room house with no view and a tin roof held in place by stones in a Casablanca slum. When it rains, it is but obvious that the roof leaks. And when it doesn’t, they live in the yard under the sky – where Youssef’s dreams come out to play.

He has never seen his father – who according to his mother, died when he was two. There is only a photograph hanging from a wall that gives him any idea about the man that his father would have been. Its not very late in the book that secrets begin to unravel themselves.

Youssef discovers that he is the product of his mother’s affair with a much married man, who is an affluent businessman and alive and kicking in the city of Casablanca, which prompts him to go out in search of all that he has been denied, without knowing whether or not his father will accept him as a son. But he does and he lives in the lap of luxury for sometime, before reversal of fortune strikes right back and he is forced to go back to the streets with his friends. This is where a “Party” – a volatile fundamentalist group is looking for easy preys and Youssef proves to be just that.

What I loved about the story was that it was realistic and moreover there were no overtones of sentimentality or the high-strung moralistic ground, which it could have become. The story does have its political angles and touches on women issues, class struggle, religious extremism, and the suffocating dynamics of other aspects of life in Arab countries.

However, at the heart of it all Secret Son is a tale of longing and belonging – and sometimes in search of identity, leaving behind people and places who we call home.

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