Secret Son

Praise and Reviews

“A tale of contemporary Morocco straddling the personal and the political, told simply, beautifully, with heart and panache. Lalami has talent to burn.”
—Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan.

“Laila Lalami’s tale of a young Moroccan man who must navigate between a bleak background and a bright possibility is magnificently told and wrenched my heart.”
—Joe Sacco, author of Safe Area Gorazde and Palestine.

“Laila Lalami’s exploration of her subjects and characters is poignant, complex, deeply reflective and compassionate; and her prose is robust and elegant. A wonderful book. ”
—Chris Abani, author of The Virgin of Flames and Song for Night.

“Laila Lalami has written a wonderfully crafted novel — set in the slums of Casablanca — whose carefully wrought characters allow us to lift the veil of media headlines and to gain greater empathy and understanding of the competing protagonists in today’s sundered world. Secret Son is an irresistible read.”
—Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books, San Francisco, CA

“Secret Son is a nuanced depiction of the roots of Islamic terrorism, written by someone who intimately knows one of the stratified societies where it grows.”
— New York Times Book Review

“Lalami’s depiction of Moroccan life in Secret Son, illuminating the social, political, religious and poverty issues facing its citizens — especially its still-hopeful young — is both sensitive and startling.”
— Los Angeles Times

“For readers to whom Casablanca has meant Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in a tight embrace, the result will be revelatory. No one writing in English has opened this world for American readers.”
— Chicago Tribune

“[Lalami] is alert to miniscule social indicators—relationships can flourish or be quashed based on one’s French pronunciation—and, lawyerlike, she dissects things into constituent parts, as when she offers a taxonomy of the various cliques at Youssef’s university. Disparate observations are subsumed within a narrative logic that is polemical but never overheated or shrill. In her tautly argued account, Lalami has given us a lucid report on a nation betrayed by failed institutions and cynically manipulated politics.”
— Bookforum

“Lalami does an impressive job of concentrating on one young man’s Candide-like experiences among all sectors of a complicated society. Relying on her sharp eye for detail rather than authorial comment or character reflection, she raises question after question — about privilege vs. poverty, Western commercialism vs. traditional ways, secularism vs. religion — without ever seeming to be doing more than telling a compelling story.”
The Oregonian

“Laila Lalami’s debut novel, Secret Son, is a parable of modern-day Morocco that addresses the same political and socioeconomic dynamics she addressed in her previous book. She is an empathetic writer who translates the aspirations of those on the lower rungs of society in spare prose.”
The Seattle Times

“Lalami uses the slums of modern-day Casablanca as a backdrop for an intense, deftly rendered coming-of-age story. Secret Son confirms [her] reputation as one of our more provocative and assured literary voices.”
—El Paso Times

“Lalami writes with restraint but with great perceptiveness. In our world, bitterness leads to desperation. Youssef’s world is no different. Lalami takes us on a journey of understanding to a place that is a darker version of the world we live in: divided by class, politics and religion.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Secret Son succeeds in the best of conventional ways. With its graceful prose, its movie-worthy plot, and its convincing, complex characters, this novel offers all of the traditional pleasures of a well-told story. . . Lalami handles her subject with an elegance and aplomb that make you forget that what you are reading is a fiction. The real world and its injustices are another dream altogether.”
— Brooklyn Rail

“The story Lalami has chosen to tell, that of the illegitimate son, has been written for centuries, from Le Morte Darthur to Daniel Deronda, yet it feels fresh and original here . . . Secret Son is like a many-sided invention, which continues to revolve under the reader’s gaze . . .Lalami keeps surprising us up to the very last page . . . She understands how to tell a good and riveting story.”
— Harvard Review

“Lalami’s story of a young man torn between family members and betrayed by the God for whom he is finally tempted to sacrifice everything is tender even as it is horrifying. The author possesses a keen sense of careful phrasing and precise language as she scripts the events that shape Youssef’s passage into manhood.”
— PopMatters

“Lalami weaves an engrossing multi-stranded story to reveal a society of inequalities which bear down particularly harshly on the younger generation.”
— Saudi Gazette

“In this carefully woven tale, filled with rich imagery and astute observations, Lalami has created recognisable characters and situations, but ultimately her prediction is a bleak one. Not so Lalami’s future as a writer.”
— The Courier-Mail (Australia)

“Morocco’s divergent worlds of rich and poor and modern and traditional collide in Laila Lalami’s skilfully crafted novel about a young man’s struggle for identity.”
— The Sunday Tasmanian

“The streets of Casablanca are brought alive in this work by debut novelist Lalami, whose powers of observation about modern-day Morocco make this book a standout. (…) Lalami achieves beautiful balance between the equally compelling personal and political strands of her tale.”
— The Sunday Telegraph

“Lalami’s study of social, political and economic division in Moroccan society makes for gripping and troubling reading.”
— The Canberra Times (Australia)

“Lalami has crafted a contemporary novel focused through a clear-eyed vision of all of the pressures acting on Youssef: economic hardship, familial hang-ups and the complicated stew of Middle Eastern politics. Neither the liberals nor the fascists come across particularly well. Maybe the sturdiest branch to reach across political and religious divides is corruption.”
—Time Out Chicago

“A welcome voice in the increasingly globalized world of literature—someone who tells us of the daily struggles of North African immigrants in Spain, for example, or the street clashes between secularists and zealots in modern-day Casablanca.”
—Time Out New York

“Quietly angry, beautifully atmospheric and achingly human, this debut novel examines many facets of the complex society of modern Morocco and leaves the reader feeling at once emotionally invested and overdrawn.”
—Bookreporter.com

“A story brimming with insight into the complexities of life in contemporary Morocco.”
—Booklist

“The culture and politics of contemporary Morocco are well displayed in this beautifully written tale, with the talented Lalami deftly portraying Youssef’s struggles for identity, work, and family. A brilliant story of alienation and desperation that easily transports readers to hot, dusty Casablanca.”
—Library Journal (starred review)

“In her debut novel, Lalami explores the religious and political underpinnings of social inequity in globalized Morocco. An absorbing tale.”
—Kirkus Reviews