BookBrowse Reviews Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faïza Guène

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Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow

by Faïza Guène

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faïza Guène X
Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faïza Guène
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    Jul 2006, 192 pages

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An upbeat first novel that is more Bridget Jones than Mean Streets, set in a housing project in Paris

Paperback Original.
From the book jacket: The Paradise projects are only a few metro stops from Paris, but here it's a whole different kind of France. Doria's father, "the Beard", has headed back to their hometown in Morocco, leaving her and her mom to cope with their mektoub—their destiny—alone. They have a little help - from a social worker sent by the city, a psychiatrist sent by the school, and a thug friend who recites Rimbaud.

It seems like fate’s dealt them an impossible hand, but Doria might still make a new life. She'll prove the projects aren't only about rap, soccer, and religious tension. She’ll take the Arabic word kif-kif (same old, same old) and mix it up with the French verb kiffer (to really like something). Now she has a whole new motto: Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow.

Comment:  Welcome to Paradise - a public housing complex in the Parisian suburb of Livry-Gargan, home to 15-year-old Doria and her mother; and former home to her heavy-drinking father, until he pushed off back to Morocco to marry a second wife in order to have a son.  When Doria's parents emigrated in the mid-1980s they imagined their lives would be like one of the sophisticated black and white movies of Paris they saw on French TV channels back home with an "antenna rigged up from a stainless-steel couscous maker", but instead they're living in a tiny two-room apartment eking out a life lived on handouts and credit - as Doria puts it, "our scriptwriter's got no talent. He's never heard of happily ever after."   Doria's mother, Yasmina, is illiterate and works terrible hours for appalling pay at a motel where the manager refers to all the Arab cleaners as "Fatma", the blacks as "Mamadou" and the Chinese as "Ping-Pong"; and Doria, despite obviously being very bright, is struggling at school, while a veritable flock of social workers wander in and out offering helpful advice.   

It's a seemingly hopeless life.  Doria says "we worry about the future but there's no point.  For all we know we might not even have one.  You could die in ten days, or tomorrow, or suddenly, right over there, right now. It's the kind of thing that doesn't exactly make an appointment" - it's all just "kif-kif tomorrow" (same shit, different day).  There are a few rays of hope, there's Rimbaud*-reciting Hamoudi who didn't finish school because he got sent to prison, but who at least is someone who seems to understand Doria; there's the despised pizza-faced Nabil (who Doria calls Nabil the Nul - Nabil the Zero), who helps Doria with her school work; and there are the social workers, who despite Doria's cynicism are both well-meaning and helpful; and among other things get Yasmina into a paid literacy program, where she thrives, slowly gaining confidence as a person in her own right and not as somebody else's daughter or wife.  There are a number of other characters who we never meet but hear about in passing, such as mild-mannered Youssef, who gets sent to prison on a minor offence and soon becomes "radicalized".

The strength of Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow (pronounced keef) is the narrator's voice.  Doria, a bubbling pot of contradicting teenage emotions is a wickedly funny observer of her environment, who doesn't believe in leaving things unsaid and has made a moral code for herself from TV programs, "TV today is like the poor person's Koran".  Through short, diary-like chapters she brings us up close and personal with her life and the very real problems of being a poor immigrant living in an effective ghetto, surrounded by poverty, bigotry, racism and misogyny - so we can get some sense of how overwhelming it is to survive in such an environment, let alone to dream of finding a better life.

It's not giving too much away to say that during the year she narrates, Doria does a lot of growing up, and both she and her mother transition from "unwanted females" into people who value themselves.  A number of reviewers have compared Doria to Bridget Jones, and it is a fair comparison, as her story is not only ultimately hopeful but also very funny - by the end Doria is starting to see that it just might be possible to create a new motto for her life - instead of kif-kif, she borrows the French verb kiffer (to really like something) to come up with Kiffe-Kiffe Tomorrow!

As always, don't take my word for it - experience this unique new voice first hand by browsing an excerpt at BookBrowse.

*Rimbaud: A French poet, 1854-1891.

This review first ran in the October 5, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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