By Faí¯za Guí¨ne. Harcourt, Inc., 179 pp, $15.95, softcover.
In a revealing moment in Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow—a gritty and witty novel of being down and out and 15 years old on the wrong side of Paris—narrator Doria imagines living with the Ingallses, that wholesome 19th-century prairie family of ’70s television fame. In reality, Doria, the angry, sarcastic child of Moroccan immigrants, resides in a housing project in those outer ’burbs of Paris we saw burning on TV last fall during the riots. Cars get jacked, piss and spit festoon the project’s elevators, and the resident drug dealer has known Doria since she was “no bigger than a block of hash”. Call this Little House in the ’Hood.
American television airs frequently in Doria’s hyper-alert, enormously engaging diary-style confidences. “I’d have given anything to trade my father for Tony Danza in Who’s the Boss?,” says Doria. She was watching The X-Files when Dad hoofed it back to North Africa to marry a son-producing peasant woman. In the Muslim world, Doria has no gender cachet, and she knows it: “Dad, he wanted a son.”¦I didn’t exactly meet customer specifications.”
Shunned, Doria and her motel-maid mother, Yasmina, receive aid from amusingly insensitive social workers “Mme. DuThingamajig” and “Cyborg Services”; zit-faced tutor Nabil; and a teacher who reports that Doria is “the kind of student who makes you want to commit suicide”. Smart-mouthed Doria replies: “Whatever, I don’t give a shit.” Isolated by the “fat bitches at school” who snicker when her Salvation Army sweatshirt is revealed to be a pyjama top, Doria retreats to Rimbaud-reciting hash vendor Hamoudi.
Nineteen when Kiffe Kiffe smash-hit Europe, brazenly talented Faí¯za Guí¨ne knows the turf she writes. She grew up in Paris public housing with Algerian-born parents, so it’s no surprise that her caustic, yet irresistible, heart-searing protagonist speaks with disaffected-teen authenticity—albeit with entertaining precociousness. As whiz-kid authors go, Guí¨ne is pretty wise. Romance blooms and Doria dumps her pet expression of the title (meaning, “same shit, different day”): “It’s not just rap and soccer in life. Love’s another way to get out of this mess.” Sure, there’s social commentary, but in this optimist’s tale, kiffer—French slang for being “really crazy about something”—may indeed come tomorrow.