Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow Paperback – Jul 3 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
College-aged Guène was raised by Algerian immigrant parents in a Parisian housing project; in her debut novel, a French bestseller, 15-year-old Doria and her illiterate mother, having been abandoned by Doria's alcoholic father, are stuck in a Paris housing project called the Paradise. Dependent on welfare and subjected to the obligatory succession of social workers, the two are determined to face forward, despite Doria's sense of doomed mektoub (destiny), where gradual improvement (French: kiffe kiffe) gets flattened by the same old quotidian (Arabic: kif-kif). Doria, perpetually failing at school, begins a job babysitting a neighbor's much-adored four-year-old daughter, and Doria's mother begins literacy courses. A smart older boy, Nabil, is enlisted to tutor Doria, and she soon recognizes the potential of someone with dreams (as opposed to neighborhood teens like Hamoudi and Youssef, imprisoned for drug dealing and car theft). Throughout, the strictures of patriarchal Muslim culture clash with a nascent feminist freedom and Doria's exuberant, sophisticated teen talk. This small novel reads like a quiet celebration within a chaotic ghetto. (July)
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In the rough Paris housing projects, Doria, 15, a child of Muslim immigrant parents, sets her soap-opera dreams against the grim daily struggle, even as she does sometimes find the bold and the beautiful in herself and in her neighborhood. "It's like a film script. . . . Trouble is, our scriptwriter's got no talent. And he's never heard of happily ever after." Author Guene, 19, has grown up in the neighborhood she writes about, and her irreverent commentary never denies how hard it is. The first-person contemporary narrative, translated from the French, is touching, furious, sharp, and very funny. Since Doria's dad moved back to Morocco to marry again (he wants a son), Mom cleans hotel rooms, and Doria wants to drop out of school. The boy she loves is in trouble with drugs and loves someone else. Honest about the oppression of women and about the prejudice, both ways, Guene also shows those who break free. Much like enduring the pain of her wisdom teeth, she discovers that "it hurts to learn." Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Overall, the beauty of Guene's story, though, is that it transcends the limitations placed on her life as a poor Arab girl in France. We feel Doria's angst over getting her first kiss, which definitely wasn't scripted in some Hollywood fairytale. We can also feel her father's abandonment - and underneath it, the searing rage - that she strives to overcome as she encourages her mother to get an education, and tries to do the same herself. These ideas are so universal, and most young people can relate (heck, as a 30 year-old woman, I can still relate! :) In an age of Arab-bashing, it's nice to see the perspective of a young Arab woman receive positive international attention. Bravo to Guene! She wrote this bestseller at 19...that fact alone inspires me to really encourage my students to write, write, write. Reaching out through writing opens so many doors, and Guene is a living witness.
I am a believer that all of our humanity is closely linked. From Paris to Parris Island, the concepts of hope, dreams, family, identity, first love, alienation, emotional hunger, and longing for something more from life resonate within us all and inextricably bind us together.
In my professional and personal opinion, I would definitely advocate for this novel to be included in school curricula. Not only is it a current treatise on the state of growing up in today's mind-boggling world, but it also deals with that issue from a fresh, diverse, and international perspective. I think that "Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow" CAN and WILL teach young people to see for themselves just how much we all really have in common instead of high-lighting our differences.
Anyway, (getting off my soapbox) the book is a coming of age novel about a Moroccan teenager whose father has left her and her mother, and who lives in a low income part of France. The heroine's economic situation is the polar opposite of Holden Caulfield's so her cynicism about her future doesn't come across as a pose. Things are bleak all around, but eventually, they improve for her and her mother. To tell more would be giving away too much for the book is fairly short.
The book is compulsively readable, and Doria, the heroine, is an engaging and perceptive narrator. However, there were a few flaws. When I read a novel, I expect the scenes to eventually build up to a climax, rather than just be strung together. With this book, it felt like things improved a bit, the narrator told us (rather than the author showing) that she was now more optimistic and then it ended, just like that. It felt like the author got called away for dinner mid-scene and never went back to wrap things up in a more cohesive manner. The heroine seemed to jump from pessimism to optimism rather abruptly, rather than growing progressively happier. But the reader won't begrudge her, her better fortune.
Doria says what others are afraid to say, addressing poverty with a blunt honesty, righteously angry over the inequities and shame that is parceled out with food stamps and cheap housing. Those who live in the projects grapple with daily survival, with no voice or political weight, intimately familiar with powerlessness. Trapped in a cycle of poverty and despair, it is Doria's wry humor that enables her to navigate a childhood that offers little in the way of encouragement, viewing life exactly as it is, with no frills and no expectations, blunting the pain of her life with wry humor and a facile sarcasm that keeps her tribulations in perspective. It is, after all, this youth that saves Doria from despair, an inevitable relief that surfaces after a difficult year and culminates on her sixteenth birthday, stronger for her experiences. Unflappable, she faces an unknowable future and the promise of romance with a hopeful heart. Luan Gaines/ 2006.
In very brief (generally 3-6 page) chapters, Doria rambles on about her day to day life, which she spends largely isolated from her peers and fairly bitter about the die fate has cast for her. However, she's not a shallow teenybopper griping about her wardrobe (although that is a significant problem), rather, she's aware enough to understand the long-term hopelessness of her and her mother's situation and righteous enough to be angry about it. There's not a lot of plot, the book follows more of a journal format as a series of small scenes. The main topics are her running crush on an older local ex-dealer, interludes with various social workers, tutoring by a nerdish boy, watching TV, her first kiss, a job babysitting, and the start of hairdressing school. Interwoven with all this is the to-be-expected critique of the traditional Arab patriarchy, which comes out not only through her own story, but that of her mother's best friend, as well as that of a neighborhood girl kept imprisoned by her father and brother. While valid, it gets a little too heavy handed at times, as do some of the book's symbolism. For example, the projects they live in are called "Paradise Estates" and when the daughter and mother visit the Eiffel Tower, they can't afford the tickets to ride up it. One somewhat surprising conclusion one can draw from the book is that despite the general structural deficiencies of modern French society, some of the social safeguards actually do help (such as the welfare assistance delivered by various grating women, or the free job training offered to the mother).
Somewhat unfairly, various critics have compared this debut to White Teeth, The Catcher in the Rye, and (oddly) Bridget Jones's Diary, which is somewhat overselling it. Guene is not nearly the stylistic talent Zadie Smith is, nor is the book as comic (or navelgazing) as the Bridget Jones' series, and thankfully, it's not as lame as the Salinger's vastly overrated book. Instead, this is a quick-reading worthwhile portrait of a side of French society that needs more visibility, and a story which ends on a somewhat hopeful note. It seems like perhaps a good book to use with teenagers to discuss issues of multiculturalism and class, as it is quite short and easily digested.