11 May 2015

Faïza Guène: Kiffe kiffe demain | Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow (2004)

Faïza Guène was nineteen when this book was published. It concerns a fifteen-year-old girl – not representative of herself – of Moroccan parents living in a government-owned high-rise block (or HLM) in Livry-Gargan on the outskirts of Paris. It's written in the vernacular of youth, heavily laden with slang words and expressions, often in verlan, or backslang. And it's often very funny, with inventive observations of people.

Doria's father has left the family to return to Morocco to find a new wife, a more fertile one who can produce the son he yearns for. He leaves behind his first wife Yasmina, who has very basic French and is forced to work in a hotel under poor working conditions and very little money. Doria is depressed and withdrawn and gets free sessions with the elderly psychologist Mme Burlaud, who smells of flea powder. Doria, the narrator, originally intended to call the book 'Kif-kif demain', indicating that one of her boring days just follows another.

The person she most relates to is Hamoudi, a twenty-eight-year old she sees as too young to be a father figure. He has been in prison for an offence he says Doria is too young to hear about, and being unemployed he spends his days selling drugs, smoking dope and, er, quoting Rimbaud. Doria becomes jealous when he finds a girlfriend, although towards the end she accepts things when he settles down with a steady job and is planning to marry Lila, the woman whose child Doria used to look after.

Doria isn't doing too well at school and the local bright spark Nabil occasionally helps her with her work, although she's initially shocked – in fact disgusted – when he clumsily steals a kiss on leaving her on one occasion. She doesn't know what she'll do on leaving school, but can't see herself working in a fastfood restaurant: 'What size drink? Small medium or large? To drink in or take out? For or against abortion?'

Occasionally the pseudo-worldly-wise banter gives way to a more poetic bleakness: 'Outside, it was as grey as the tower block concrete and the raindrops were very fine, as if God was spitting down on us.' (My translations.)

However, the ending is much more optimistic: Yasmina has been given literacy lessons and now works in a local government canteen, Hamoudi is very happy with his new family, Mme Burlaud says Doria no longer needs her services, and Doria herself can now even envisage a possible future in which Nabil might play a part. That's why she changes the title to Kiffe kiffe demain – 'kiffer' is a slang word meaning 'to like' someone or something.

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