81 pages 2 hours read

Faiza Guene

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2004

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Summary and Study Guide


Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow is the first novel by Faëza Guène, who was only nineteen when it was published in 2004. The book was embraced and celebrated in France as reflecting the authentic voice of working-class young people, especially those of North-African descent growing up in the rundown suburban housing projects outside of Paris. Guène, the daughter of Algerian immigrants, grew up in the suburb of Bobigny, very close to Livry-Gargan, the location of the fictional Paradise estate where Doria, the protagonist of the novel, lives. The language of the original French text, Kiffe Kiffe Demain, makes heavy use of contemporary French slang.

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow describes a year in the life of Doria, a teenager who lives with her Moroccan immigrant mother. The novel, which is in the form of a diary but never specifically identified as one, describes the struggles Doria experiences after her father abandons the family. Doria negotiates puberty, a budding romance, and changes in the lives of her family and friends while reflecting on her own position on the margins of French society.

Doria’s voice dominates the narrative, which is filled with references to French and American pop culture, and utilizes occasional words in Arabic (which are defined in a brief glossary preceding the first chapter). The title of the book captures Doria’s sense of moving between different cultures and of crafting her own identity from parts of each. It combines an Arabic phrase, kif kif, meaning “same old thing as always,” and the French word kiffer, teenaged slang meaning to really like someone or something. This hybrid phrase expresses Daria’s slowly-dawning sense of hope for the future.

Doria’s imagination is shaped by the media she consumes, and she often expresses her hopes and fears in terms of far-fetched daydream scenarios inspired by TV shows and movies. Doria presents herself as defiant and rebellious, doing her best to hide her vulnerabilities from the adults around her and even from herself. Her descriptions of people and situations are often bitingly funny, but the reader is also given glimpses of an underlying sense of isolation and fear. She swings between emotional highs and lows and takes solace in fantasy. During the time the book covers, she slowly develops a greater feeling of connection with the people around her and begins to cultivate a cautious optimism.

When Doria begins her narrative, she and her mother are dealing with the aftermath of her father’s abandonment. Doria’s father, unhappy that his wife was unable to give him a son, has returned to North Africa in order to marry again. Doria knows she disappointed her father by being born a girl, and frequently reflects on how different her life would be, had she been a boy. Though her father’s departure has left Doria and her mother in poverty, we slowly learn that he was a less than ideal parent who drank heavily and was sometimes violent, and that Doria was disillusioned with him long before he left.

Doria’s mother, Yasmina, is illiterate and works as a cleaning lady at a motel. At the beginning of the story, Doria feels protective of her mother and resentful of the string of social workers who have become part of their lives. Doria is intelligent but indifferent to school, and does poorly in her classes. The only adult Doria likes and trusts is her friend Hamoudi, who is trying to break free from a life of drug-dealing and petty crime and who shares Doria’s secret love of poetry and literature. Doria daydreams about fantastic reversals of fortune, but the real changes in her life come through small changes she initially resists or dismisses. Doria starts babysitting for Lila, a young divorcee with a four-year-old daughter, and finds she enjoys being needed. When she learns that Lila and Hamoudi have met and become romantically involved, Doria feels betrayed, but the changes that have taken place in her own life help make it more bearable.

Yasmina enlists a friend’s son, Nabil, to help Doria with her homework. Doria initially dislikes Nabil, or at least claims to, and is surprised when he unexpectedly kisses her. Thinking over the incident while Nabil is gone for the summer, Doria realizes she has feelings for him, but when he returns, they have trouble reconnecting. Despite Nabil’s help, Doria fails her classes and is given a place in a vocational training program for hairdressers. She accepts this alternative without much thought, though it seems far below her abilities.

After a strike at the motel where Yasmina works, their current social worker helps her enroll in a training program that includes literacy courses. Through the program, Yasmina makes new friends and eventually finds a new and better job in a school cafeteria. Doria is happy to see her mother growing and changing, and by the end of the book, she considers Yasmina her chief role model.

Doria observes other changes in the lives of people she knows. Youssef, the eldest son of a family friend known to Doria as Aunt Zohra, goes to prison and emerges a year later, apparently radicalized by religious extremists he met there. A young woman, Samra, whom Doria describes as the “prisoner” of the men in her family, runs away to marry her secret French boyfriend.

Doria begins her vocational courses but soon realizes that she does not want to be a hairdresser forever. She also reconnects with Nabil, and the two begin dating. Buoyed by her budding relationship with Nabil and by the changes she sees in her mother and her friends, Doria feels a newfound excitement about her future.