Secret Son by Laila Lalami

Published: 2009 Genre: Contemporary fiction 1. First lines. 2. Cover: Penguin UK 3. Arch [Public Domain] via pxhere 4. Morocco. [CC BY 2.0] Image by Magharebia via flickr Original image cropped.

Youssef El-Mekki is a nineteen-year-old Muslim university student living with his mother in the slums of Casablanca. He had been told that his father had died many years ago, but he discovers that this is not true. His father is successful businessman Nabil Amrani, who has a wife and daughter, and lives in the elite part of Casablanca. Youssef turns his back on his life in the slums and lives in his father’s penthouse apartment. Abruptly, after some months, his father cuts off contact, and Youssef returns to his home, and in his disillusionment, takes up with “the Party”, a fringe Islamic group.

“A life of dignity was in the realm of the imaginary.”

  • Glanceabook: “This book has a very readable writing style that captures a realistic picture of two sides of life in Casablanca, the slums where Youssef lives with his mother, and the elite suburbs of the rich. However, the last part dealing with Youssef’s part in a terrorist act feels too rushed, and the ending abrupt.”
  • Kirkus: “An absorbing tale that, alas, ends too abruptly.
  • Publishers Weekly: “Unfortunately, Lalami riddles the book with uninspired descriptions and observations; Youssef and Nabil are less than distinctive; and the climax lacks impact. It all seems perfunctory.”


“He needed time to adjust to real life, where heroes and villains could not be told apart by their looks or their accents, where there were no last minute reversals of fortune.”

“The universe had an odd sense of fairness; it took away things one did not want to give up, and then gave things one did not ask for.”

Author: Laila Lalami

Awards: 2010 Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist

Secret Son book trailer
Audio sample via Soundcloud
Other editions

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