If Great Expectations had taken place in Morocco, it might have read like Laila Lalami’s Secret Son (Algonquin, $13.95). Eighteen-year-old Youssef El Mekki has lived his whole life in a shack outside Casablanca. When he learns that he might inherit a fortune, he sheds his degrading poverty (along with his mother and friends) for a luxurious lifestyle in the city. Meanwhile, an Islamist group known only as “The Party” insidiously extends its influence in Youssef’s slum. Lalami uses Youssef’s rags-to-riches ascent to expose the twin poles of Moroccan society: from the unemployed young men who are easy prey for the fundamentalists, to the moneyed elite who educate their children in Europe and the United States.
Welcome to Kittur. Aravind Adiga’s tour of this Southwestern Indian city of 193,432 takes place Between The Assassinations (Free Press, $15) of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and her son Rajiv in 1991. Interspersed with maps, history, and sight-seeing highlights, these 14 linked stories from the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The White Tiger focus on Kittur’s diverse and contentious religions, ethnicities, and castes. Of whatever faith or social level, however, the majority of Adiga’s characters are poor. Poor, angry, and defiant. They may sleep in the streets, beg for money for a father’s drugs, abase themselves before bosses and rich patrons, but these people never lose their essential dignity. Adiga’s searing stories of hard work, betrayal, love, and corruption capture “that strange mixture of the strikingly beautiful and the filthy that is the nature of every Indian village.”