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?