Sunday, 5 August 2007

Direct speech from the HLM (review of Faïza Guene: Kiffe Kiffe demain)

During the past few years, I've become acquainted with different varieties of immigrant Swedish through recent fiction. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about immigrant French. Its varieties still seem unavailable to me. There isn't much of a market for French novels in the original where I now live. Instead, I found a Finnish translation of the young Moroccan-French author Faîza Guëne's Kiffe Kiffe Demain (2004; Finnish: Hällä väliä huomisella, LIKE, 2005). Such novels always end in bargain bins within a few months of their publication. However, they do get translated, due to state sponsorship, and the small minority who enjoys them gets to buy them for next to nothing (less than 2 euros).

I really fell in love with this novel's voice. The story is not that exceptional. It is almost monotonous. This is the reality that most of us who work with low-income immigrants are faced with throughout Europe: welfare dependency, school drop-outism, drug addiction, high rates of divorce. The young narrator Doria, however, makes a hell of a difference: one virtually swims in her pants and starts to analyse the whereabouts of suburban Paris according to her system of values, according to her points. The humour is pitch black, and Guëne doesn't let anyone get away with it - everyone gets their share of ridicule and shame.


There is the Moroccan father who escapes back home to marry a youngster who will produce a male heir. There is the middle-class native social worker, who is only interested in her own forthcoming wedding. There is the drug dealer who tries to change, and there is the illiterate mother, who learns how to read. And all this can co-exist peacefully, if the voice is fresh and wicked.

There is the new phenomenon of Muslim comediennes in most Western countries struggling with distorted representations of Islam. All this is more than welcome. I don't think Guëne even tries to build any particular image of Islam; she is working on a common reality shared by all recently arrived immigrants living in the Parisian HLM districts. Guëne works at the level of Euro Miracle stores, with people who might even sometimes feel proud about being able to make ends meet. The protagonist Doria goes to school dressed up in the euro miracles and flea market treasures, pink t-shirts with sleepytime bunnies on them. She doesn't particularly dream of being dressed up like everyone else, which makes her a genuine oddity. She also drops out from the hairdressing school she is assigned to because of her low marks.

I expect a lot from Guëne. Her narration seems ideal for TV series, or documentary films. I wish someone in this country wrote like her, directly from the "roots", without snobbery, without any desire to impress. The class perspective makes Guëne's narrative differ from the usual upwardly mobile multicultural jargon. When the point is not providing second generation immigrants a recipe of how to get out of the ghetto, we may be moving towards new directions in postcolonial literatures. How to intervene in language, how to find new ways to speak about life right here and now, where it is currently being lived, that is really something that will give hope to us all.

1 comment:

Jess said...

It can't get any better than this.