Author Laila Lalami brings her novel 'Secret Son' to Seattle
An interview with author Laila Lalami, whose "Secret Son" is the book that Seattle Public Library has selected for the 2010 Seattle Reads program.
Seattle Times book editor
Laila LalamiThe author of "Secret Son," this year's "Seattle Reads" choice, will appear at these area locations. All events are free, except as noted. For more information go to www.spl.org.
• At 11 a.m. Thursday, May 6, at the Northgate Community Center, 10510 5th Ave. N.E., Seattle.
• At 7 p.m. May 6 at the Douglass-Truth branch of the Seattle Public Library.
• At 7 p.m. May 7 at the Central Branch of SPL.
• At 11 a.m. Saturday, May 8, at the Northeast branch.
• At 4 p.m. Saturday, May 8, at the Beacon Hill branch.
• At 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 10, at Seattle Arts & Lectures, Benaroya Hall, Seattle. Tickets for this event are $10 to $70; for more information call 206-621-2230 or go to www.lectures.org.
Adolescence is tricky. Young people on the cusp of adulthood assume a mask of competence, even as vulnerability, ego and insecurity wage war beneath. Add to that mix a combustible political climate, and you have the setup for Laila Lalami's Morocco-set novel, "Secret Son," (Algonquin), this year's "Seattle Reads" choice, the book Seattle Public Library hopes its patrons citywide will read.
"Secret Son" tells the story of Youssef, a hospital worker's son who lives on the poor side of contemporary Casablanca. He's a college student, well-intentioned but rudderless, the repository of the hopes and fears of his mother Rachida, the single parent who supports him.
Youssef fills his days studying, smoking, lusting after girls and hanging with his friends at the Oasis Cafe. Then by happenstance he learns that his father, who his mother had said was dead, is a wealthy Moroccan businessmen. Youssef is his illegitimate son. As the young man tries on this new identity, his old neighborhood becomes a beachhead for Islamic extremists, and Youssef enters a dangerous vortex of class war and violence.
Lalami, who visits Seattle this week to discuss her book at several locations, is a writing professor at the University of California at Riverside. She grew up in a lower middle-class family in Morocco, but her parents managed to send her to a private French school, and "having that experience put me in a position where I was able to observe both segments of society," the wealthy Moroccan elite, and everyone else.
She was living in Portland and revising her first book, 2005's "Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits," when an image popped into her head "of a young man who was going home to the house he shares with his mother, having watched a movie. I just followed it and continued, thinking about who he was, who his mother was, and that something was not quite right with this picture."
The gap between rich and poor in Morocco is no worse than in many other countries, says Lalami, but in "Secret Son" she trains her novelist's eye on it to devastating effect. The rich are cocooned in privilege; the streets seethe with resentment and revolution. It's a tinderbox, and the reader follows Youssef's trajectory with mounting dread.
Lalami believes that novels are the only art form where the reader/observer can completely inhabit another person's head. One of the strengths of "Secret Son" is its ability to sympathetically portray the major characters, who all make surprising and misguided choices and suffer the consequences.
"I think some readers are looking to have their views confirmed or consoled. and that doesn't always happen," she said. "That's not what novels do, that's what fairy tales do. In adult fiction it's not a bad thing, it's a good thing, to have your views challenged, to have things happen that you didn't wish or expect to happen."
Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM's Arts Channel at www.king.org/
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.