Kiffe, Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Guene

I have finally made some progress on my Around the World project, a project with a goal of reading a children’s book from each and every nation of the world. I may have cheated here, however, since the book is not really Algerian but rather Parisian, but since it’s my own project I get to make up the rules.

Kiffe, Kiffe Tomorrow is a book set in Paris, written by a Frenchwoman of Algerian descent whose parents were immigrants to France from Algeria. Ms. Guene writes in the voice of her protagonist, Doria, perhaps from experience: the back cover of my book says that Faiza Guene “grew up in the public housing projects of Pantin, outside Paris.” It’s voice that that’s almost unrelentingly pessimistic and depressed. Daria’s father has deserted them and gone back to Morocco to re-marry, since Daria, a girl, is the only child her mother has been able to give her father, a traditional Arabic Muslim who wants a son above all. Fifteen year old Daria feels unloved and unwanted and unmoored. Her mother is struggling with a bad job, illiteracy, and the loss of her husband. Daria herself struggles in school and tries to find some sort of dream or role model to hold onto, but mostly fails. Or the dreams and the people she looks up to fail her. Either way, it’s a bad life, and in some ways it gets worse as the book progresses. Daria flunks out of school and is sent to a vocational high school. Her real-life crush turns out to be a drug dealer who’s too old for her anyway, and she finds out that her TV-crush is gay. Her dreams are unrealistic and mostly unachievable. One day she’s going to become a film star, the next a politician. Then, she wants to marry a rich guy who will take her out of the poverty she lives in. Or she thinks she might win the lottery.

The ending is ambiguous. Daria might make it out of the projects—or she might not. The title of the book reflects this ambiguity. Kiffe, Kiffe comes from the Arabic term kif-kif, meaning same old, same old. But it’s combined in Daria’s made up phrasing with the French verb kiffer which means to really like something or someone. So, kiffe, kiffe tomorrow indicates that Daria’s life may be the same old rut of poverty and failed dreams, or it may happen (tomorrow) that she finds something or someone she really likes to rescue her from her fate.

I can’t imagine that anyone, even a teen from the slums who identifies with Daria and her unrelenting unhappiness and cynicism, would read this book for enjoyment. However, it does end with a little ray of hope, and the narrative painted a realistic picture of the attitude and the actions that a life of poverty can engender in a young teenager who is trying desperately to find some sort of meaning and vision for her life. I didn’t like Daria very much, but I understood a little of why she thought the way she did. Perhaps reading this book will help me have a little more empathy for the people I come across who are trying to grow up and to climb out of poverty.

I don’t think I learned much about Algeria, however, or about Algerian children’s literature. The book is set, as I said, in Paris, and although the author is of Algerian parentage, she chose to send Daria’s father back to Morocco, not Algeria. I suppose I learned a bit about North African immigrants living in France. Anybody know of any children’s books actually from Algeria?

Twelve+ Recommended Books for the North Africa Challenge

I’m not saying these are the best books to read for the North Africa Challenge. I may read several this year that are even better than these. However, I can recommend these because I’ve already read them and enjoyed them.

Picture Books:
The Sabbath Lion: A Jewish Folktale from Algeria retold by Howard Schwartz and Barbara Rush. I thought this story of a young Jewish boy, Yosef, who honors the Sabbath day even at the risk of his life had a great lesson and plot. The prose in this retelling is adequate, but nothing special. A little flowery language to go along with the deeply spiritual tale would have been welcome. And I had a bit of a problem with the “Sabbath Queen” who supposedly rescues Yosef from the jaws of death. However, the story reminded me of Aslan and of the fourth commandment and of the mercy and faithfulness of God. So, not a bad little book. (I’d change “Queen of the Sabbath” to “God Almighty” if I read the story out loud because I can do stuff like that when I’m reading out loud if I want to.)

The Day of Ahmed’s Secret by Florence Heide Parry. (Egypt) Ahmed lives in busy, bustling Cairo, and he has a secret. As he delivers cooking fuel to his customers, he anticipates sharing his secret with his family. Published in 1995, the book doesn’t seem outdated to me, but then again I’ve never been to Cairo.

The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo and Ruth Heller. Rhodopis is a slave girl from Greece whose only possession is a pair of of rosy-gold slippers. When a bird/god steals one of her slippers, she is heart-broken, but soon her stolen slipper will lead to fame and good fortune for Rhodopis. The writing in this Cinderella variation is quite good, and the illustrations are colorful and Egyptian-style.

Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile by Tomie de Paola. “It’s a new school year, and Bill and Pete are back in a new adventure. Their teacher, Ms. Ibis, is taking all the little crocodiles (and their toothbrushes) on a class trip to the Royal Museum. But who’s that trying to steal the Sacred Eye of Isis? Can it be the Bad Guy? Can Bill and Pete save the day once more?”

I have quite a few more picture books set in Northern Africa that I will be reading and reviewing in the coming year, but those four are the only ones I’ve already sampled.

Children’s Fiction:
Star of Light by Patricia St. John. Ms. St. John was a missionary nurse in Morocco for 27 years, and her novel about Hamid and his blind little sister Kinza reflects her knowledge of North African culture and peoples. This story is good for read aloud time.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. (Sudan) Semicolon review here.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. (Sudan) Semicolon review here.

There are also a lot of children’s books set in ancient Egypt, not quite what I’m looking for in this reading challenge, but you may want to pick one of these: A Place in the Sun by Jill Rubalcaba, Shadow Hawk by Andre Norton, The Golden Goblet by Eloise McGraw, Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise McGraw,

Adult Fiction:
Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo. (Sudan) Semicolon review here and here.

Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Semicolon review here.

The Bible or the Axe by William O. Levi. (South Sudan) “Subtitled ‘one man’s escape from persecution in the Sudan’, this autobiography reads like a novel.” Semicolon review here.

Men of Salt: Crossing the Sahara on the Caravan of White Gold by Michael Benanav. Semicolon review here.

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi. (Morocco) Semicolon review here.

The Spy Wore Silk by Aline, Countess of Romanones.(Morocco) “An undercover agent tells how she followed future CIA chief William Casey through the back streets of Marrakech to the palaces of Casablanca on a mission to prevent the assassination of Morocco’s king.” I read this book a long time ago, and I remember it as a good read. But I can’t tell you much more than the blurb does.

Sign up for the North Africa Reading Challenge here.
Find more suggested books to read about North Africa here.