Do you remember what the first book you read in translation was? I’ve always been drawn to books that were originally published in other languages, or that have loose use of multiple languages in the text. As a part of Multicultural Kid Blogs Read Around the World Summer Reading Series bloggers from around the world are sharing their book reviews of multicultural (and sometimes multilingual too) books for kids of all ages. Mondays are for ages 5 and under, Wednesdays for children 6-10, and Fridays for tweens and older. You can also see all of the recommendations on our Summer Reading Pinterest Board.
So, since it’s Friday you’ve guessed correctly that this book review is for tweens or older children.
The book that I’ve chosen is Secret Son by Laila Lalami. Lalami is a Moroccan author however this book was written in English from the beginning instead of Moroccan Arabic (Darija) or French. It is almost impossible to find any literature written in darija. The language is not the same as classical Arabic but is not typically seen as a written language – it’s a street language. There’s no uniform spelling of any words, and when it’s typed most people write in Roman letters, not Arabic script. You’ll typically find Moroccan authors who write literature writing in French. In an excerpt from an interview with Lalami she says;
I grew up speaking both Moroccan Arabic and French, but my earliest exposure to books came through French because I received, to my long-lasting despair, a semicolonial education. Nearly all children’s literature that I was exposed to as a child was in French, so when I started writing fiction, it was in that language. While I could read and write Arabic competently enough, I found it very hard to write fictional narrative in Arabic….However, once I left Morocco to study abroad, I started to question the bilingualism with which I had grown up. In my country, French and Arabic did not always have a harmonious relationship; rather, they were often in competition in the public sphere I started to feel really uncomfortable with the idea of writing fiction using the colonial tongue…
I can’t tell you how often I’ve wished I could find an actual story book that is written in Darija as I feel like it would help me learn the language so much better. But it’s simply not to be found.
I chose this book because I love Laila’s storytelling style. I also love that she shares the struggles of real Moroccans without exploiting them. As I read this book I shook my head in agreement time and time again. I recommend this book is appropriate for older teens who can understand complex situations. It’s also a great read for adults who want to understand what drives people to desperation. This book will challenge the party-line many Americans toe that extremists “hate our freedoms.” Instead you’ll journey into a much more complex world of expectations, reality, and the power of dreams both good – and bad.
One more anecdote. My husband never read a book for pleasure, and never (yes in in his entire life!) completed an entire novel. This was the first book that he read front to back for enjoyment or school. First novel…in his third language (English). As a self-professed bibliophile that reads at least 50 books a year it took me a long time to wrap my head around the idea of having never read a book. Thanks Laila for making him a reader! I love that!