Laila Lalami was born in Rabat, Morocco. She studied English language and literature at the Université Mohammed V in her hometown and later graduated from University College London in 1991. Upon returning to Morocco, she wrote for the daily newspaper »Al-Bayane«, and soon afterwards moved to the United States to pursue a doctorate in linguistics at the University of Southern California, where she also taught. In 2002 she left her job as a computational linguist in a start-up company in order to dedicate herself to writing in English, her third language. Her celebrated first collection of stories, »Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits« (2005), was published three years later.
Opening with a boat full of refugees who are trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar and illegally enter Spain, Lalami traces the storylines of four protagonists. After presenting their backgrounds and their various motives, the narrator follows their destinies beyond the Spanish coast. Murad, an unemployed university graduate estranged from his mother, is soon deported, as is Halima, a simple woman who resolutely left her violent husband. She and her children end up in a slum, where religious fundamentalism promises dignity to those who are dejected within society. Faten is an underprivileged student and advocate of the veil; she eventually fails in her attempt to distinguish herself from the corrupt élite and turns to prostitution in Madrid. Aziz, who only wanted to go to Europe to earn money, returns to his wife a changed man, and she is now a stranger to him. In Lalami’s empathetic and realistic portrayals, the paths and social backgrounds of different people shed light on one another to reveal a subtle portrait of Morocco, as well as a universal perspective on human co-existence. One episode from the book was nominated for the Caine Prize for African Literature.
Through her articles for newspapers and magazines such as the »Boston Globe«, »The Los Angeles Times«, »The Nation«, »The New York Times« and »The Washington Post«, as well as in her blog, Lalami has made a name for herself as an informed commentator on contemporary cultural and political issues, with an eye for nuances. In articles such as »Beyond the Veil« she elucidates the history and development of the veil controversy, while distancing herself from Islamist and islamophobic positions alike. By doing so, she denounces the ideological appropriation of women by both parties. Lalami currently works as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. Her first novel, »Secret Son«, will be published in the United States in April 2009. She lives in Los Angeles.
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