Saturday, October 6, 2012

A sophomore stumble | Dreams from the Endz

Faïza Guène's first novel, Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow (Just Like Tomorrow in the UK edition) was an interesting and thought-provoking coming-of-age novel dealing with the North African immigrant experience in France with I rather enjoyed, despite some flaws. Guène's sophomore attempt, Dreams from the Endz (which does not appear to have found a home in the US), touches on many of the same themes, but unlike Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow, lacks a direction that would turn it into a coherent novel.

Guène's writing style is recognizable from the first page - I inherited Dreams from the Endz from my sister, who remarked that the book was "unreadable". But it's not truly unreadable, it's simply Guène's rough, sometimes overly speech-like style. Similar to the cynicism of the teenaged Doria from Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow, twenty-four Ahlème of Dreams from the Endz speaks in a blunt, often jarring style. Doria's speech made sense for her character; Ahlème gives off the feeling of a split character, as though she's several things at once. Her speaking style is a little less believable in someone her age, even as Guène has perhaps improved certain aspects of her writing.

The problem, it turns out, is the absolute lack of story. Dreams from the Endz is a snapshot book, showing one single, struggling family in the down-life of Paris' suburbs. Ahlème's search for a job, or for a better life for her younger brother Foued, or her constant concerns about being deported... these all paint a very interesting portrait of a less-well-off portion of France's population. The immigrant experience is clearly felt. The problem is that Guène does not take it further - there is no story beyond these small images. There is no resolution, nothing towards which the novel progresses. Even the characters remain rather stiff and clumsily developed. Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow suffered from much the same problems, yet with its feet firmly planted in the coming-of-age realm, it managed to move past most of its issues. Dreams from the Endz did not.

Is Dreams from the Endz bad? No. But it's not particularly good either. I don't think I could recommend it to readers, even those who read and enjoyed Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow as I did (a book I would recommend, with some reservations regarding the writing style). The book is a short and remarkably quick read, and though the portrait it paints can teach a reader quite a bit, there isn't much around the snapshots to make it a particularly worthwhile book.

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