Faiza Guene, Chatto and Windus, £11.99
Dreams from the Endz is about the impact of politics on everyday life and how the French state stamps on the dreams of the young, immigrants and poor. Set on Uprising Estate in the Parisian suburb of Ivry, the novel's main character, Ahleme, is a sharpwitted and determined 24 year old Algerian woman.
With an astute eye for detail and a wonderfully humorous acerbic tongue, Ahleme recounts her struggles to survive the daily humiliations of the job centre, the immigration office, the police station and the education system, as she tries to get a permanent job, stay in France and keep her 16 year old brother, Foued, in school and out of prison. Add to this caring for "the Boss" (her father, incapacitated by a workplace accident) and it's easy to see why she feels "24, going on 40".
The second novel by French-Algerian author Faiza Guene develops several of the themes present in her highly successful debut work, Just Like Tomorrow. Both portray the harsh reality of life in Nicolas Sarkozy's France, where racism, discrimination and poverty vie for supremacy with anger and resistance in the outlying suburbs of the capital.
Guene interweaves political commentary skilfully with daily routine through the voice of Ahleme, writing how "the Boss is having an afternoon nap, I'm dreaming about a better life and there are students demonstrating in the streets of Paris". A brief romance with a Serbian asylum seeker called Tonislav, who is subsequently deported, is summed up with, "There won't be any regrets, between Tonislav and me - just like the Danone factory and those two hundred employees who got made redundant."
Guene does not shy away from discussing difficult issues. The inequities of the French immigration system are explored during a family trip to Algeria. She describes groups of young men huddled around international telephone booths, desperately trying to prolong conversations with family and friends in France. These are the victims of the "double peine" (double punishment) system where non-nationals convicted of a crime also lose their residency. Despite this punitive system, she is all too aware why the majority of young Algerians still want to move to France, eager to leave behind "their experiences of civil war, hunger and terror".
Perhaps the most compelling part of the novel is a sharp argument between Ahleme and her brother about whether an alternative exists to the grinding poverty and racism of life in the suburbs. Ahleme is adamant that drifting into petty crime, as Foued is doing, is a "cop out", choosing instead to focus on the "people who struggle, because society hasn't given them a choice, but they try to dig themselves out and taste happiness anyway". This is a novel well worth reading.