Country: Morocco, North AfricaAuthor: Laila LalamiReview: This is a novel/collection of related short stories, and in this way reminds me of Naipaul's Miguel Street. The stories are about four Moroccans who take the risk of crossing the narrow straits between Morocco and Spain, and are separated into two main sections: "Before" and "After". The book grew on me; to be honest, I was not hooked by the prologue until I'd read the whole thing. By the end, though, I was sorry to finish the book.Lalami's style is clean and spare, and her four characters rise off the page and we care. Each of the characters gets two full stories, a "Before" story and an "After" story, and the prologue tells the climax -- the moment when they cross the straits and succeed, or fail, to make it to another life. One of the characters -- a man with an English degree, a voracious reader of American literature -- gets three; it's his POV in the prologue. By the end, the short stories lock together in a single whole, and the novel is there -- its protagonist is The Immigrant, and its resolution is variable.There were a couple of bits that stand out. One of my favourite stories in the collection, the first one after the prologue, "The Fanatic", is told from the POV of a character who never recurs. He sees, and affects the life of, one of the immigrants, someone whose story is told in the second part of the book. I suspect that it's a weakness, especially if the stories form a novel, but on its own it's very fine. Of course it is. It was shortlisted for the Caine Prize -- the African Booker.I imagine that for others part of the allure of this collection is the fact that it's rooted in Islam, which is the religion du jour for many Western literati, and that the characters do not conform to the expected stereotypes. Only one of them is particularly religious; the rest behave remarkably like people (warning: sarcasm intended).Comment: I've not read any North African literature proper, other than Camus, which masquerades as French literature, and Gide, who's an expatriate anyway. I keep meaning to read Mahfouz but haven't managed yet. My North African exposure is narrow. Lalami's a welcome change from that.I've been following her work for some time now. I came across her blog, oh, sometime back in 2005 maybe, before Hope was published, and have often intended to read the book. I'm not disappointed I finally did.