It is hard to imagine a working class female migrant from the deprived areas of Clayton (Manchester), Glodwick (Oldham ) or Hyde (Tameside) being offered a book contract. Faiza is from a similar background; North African descent, working class, living in the less glamorous suburbs of Paris. She wrote her first novel at 17 years old, Just like Tomorrow, which was a massive success.
Faiza writes about her life and her community but she also draws the links with the position of North African people and their colonial situation in France. Her books are angry, funny and direct: opening up a world of discrimination and deprivation but one where people have their own ways of dealing with their circumstances.
In Just like Tomorrow the heroine is 15 year old Doria. Her father has returned to Morocco to marry another woman so he can have a son: her mother does not speak French and works as a room assistant in a local hotel. Doria is angry – not just teenager angry – but angry about her life and her position within the category allocated to her and her community in France.
Doria hates the way her mother is treated at work . “Everyone calls her Fatima at the Formula 1 in Bagnolet. They are always shouting at her, and they keep a close eye on her to check that she doesn’t jack anything from the bedrooms”.
Of course Fatima is not her mother’s name; that is Yasmina. It is just the everyday racism that she experiences as a migrant woman trying to make a living in the low wage economy. Later on in the book when the rest of the hotel staff go on strike poor Yasmina has no choice but to keep working. She says to Doria that she wants to support the other women but has no husband to support her.
Going on strike is everywhere in Doria’s world. Her teachers are on strike after the Head teacher has a gas canister thrown at him. But violence in the school is not unusual and it is not surprising given the lives of the young people and their lack of hope for the future.
Doria does have some people she can talk to, including her social worker Mrs Burland and a local young man Hamoudi. Doria knows that people are watching her and that, because of her father leaving, that she has been labelled as a “problem” by the authorities. And, although Mrs. Burland irritates her – “she is old, ugly and she smells of Quick Nits shampoo” – Doria feels able to talk to her about her feelings.
Hamoudi is a street wise young man of 28 and someone who does take time to listen to Doria. Like a lot of North African young men he has been in prison and now spends his time selling drugs because there are no other choices. Hamoudi quotes poetry to Doria and it saddens her when she sees how the police treat him. “So when I see the police frisking Hamoudi near our main entrance or I hear them bad-mouthing him with stuff like “shithead” or “piece of scum” I tell myself they don’t know anything about poetry.”
Life for migrants in France is not easy. Films like Le Haine and Girlhood have shown that few of them enjoy the ideals of the French Republic of “equality, fraternity and liberty”. Faiza in this novel reveals the reality for young people which is often harsh and unrelenting oppression. But, as in her other novels, the main character is a young woman who is angry but also intelligent enough to realise that she can change her life and maybe even that of her community.
Reading this novel reminds me of my relationship with my mother. She was Irish and experienced similar acts of racism and hostility. It is not good for any child to see their mother being treated in this way. For me the power of this novel is that it makes real the experiences of many migrant women across the world but not as victims but as people who can overcome discrimination and live a happier life.
Buy it here