Book Review: Faïza Guène’s ‘Dromen tussen het beton’

by Eneryvibes

Ahlème is twenty-four and lives in Ivry, a suburb of Paris. She dreams of a man who takes her in his arms. She fantasizes to visit her home village in Algeria. And she dreams one day to be a writer. In the real world she takes care of her father who probably suffers from dementia and she has to watch her younger brother Foued, who threatens to take a criminal path. Ahlème herself is struggling to get a steady job to make ends meet, has to queue up at the immigration service and is in love with the wrong man. She’s scared to get deported out of the country. As she says at the beginning of the book while filling a job form: ‘I’m no French citizen, so where can I fill in that my life is a failure.’

Guène taps right into the struggles of second generation children of migrants living in the suburbs of Paris, who have to cope with exclusion and racism. Their parents came to France to have a better life for themselves and their families. But as we all know children of migrants often struggle with identity problems  when living in harsh conditions. Living in two worlds, with society not accepting them as citizens, things can go wrong. Ahlème, having experience of getting into trouble when she was young, tries to protect her brother by keeping him on the right path. Without avail, because the big bucks already got to him.

When cleaning up his room one day Ahlème comes across stacks of money and goods. She goes buzzurck on him and he confesses that seeing her struggle to make ends meet he has to take care of himself to keep up the ‘light.’ The ‘light’ being a peergroup of slick boys who impress the ‘djoufs’ [girls] with their appearance. But at the same time he got trapped, like other youth in the neighbourhood, into the clutches of a criminal network who uses youngsters as couriers for their criminal dealings. A life where young migrant people often can’t escape or shake of, for it’s perceived as the only way out of slum life. What to do? Send him to Algeria for a while, what some parents do when their teenage kids get hard to handle.

On the other hand not all is gloomy in the life of Ahlème. She’s got a fine support system from her dear Tantie Mariatou and Papa Demba, warm and loving people, who give her emotional support when she’s sad and distraughted. Tantie Mariatou has a positive look on life and like a mother she gives her advice what to do. As when in her search for love she got stood up by a Bulgarian man named Tonislav. Later on she finds out what she dreads the most, he got deported.

Guène tells about real life behind all those scenes we saw on tv of clashes between police and youth in the innercity of Paris a few years ago. Promised the ideal of a republican France, where the state is blind to race, religion and ethnicity and all citizens enjoy equal opportunity, both generations feel betrayed.  Ahlème’s father who is incapacitated after an accident at work, Ahlème though integrated yet seen as an outsider, Foued whose chances in life are determined by his position in society. Ivri is like La Courneuve, a symbol of France’s failure to integrate millions of Arab and African immigrants – many of them Muslims – and their French-born children and grandchildren.

Dromen tussen het beton [Dreams from the Endz] is a light-footed and breezy novel, full of sharp observations, humor and irony. It gives a vivid and colorful image of the life of a young Algerian woman in a Parisian suburb.

Faïza Guène is a French writer and director. Born in France in 1985 to parents of Algerian origin she is best known for her two novels, Kiffe kiffe demain and Du rêve pour les oufs. She has also directed several short films, including Rien que des mots (2004).
Kiffe kiffe demain was published in 2004 when Guène was nineteen years old. The novel has sold over 200,000 copies and been translated into twenty-two different languages. It was translated into English in 2006 by Sarah Adams under the title Just Like Tomorrow. Her second work, Du rêve pour les oufs, was released on 28 August 2006 in France and translated into English by Sarah Adams as Dreams from the Endz.
Guène has written for Respect magazine since 2005.


Dromen tussen het beton
[original title Du rêve por les oufs]
Faiza Guène’s
Uitgeverij Luitingh – Sijthoff
191 pages

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~ by eneryvibes on 1,February 8, 2012.

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