Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh follows two young women, mother and daughter, as they face revolution and civil unrest 30 years apart. Nadia, in 1984, studies hard in school to better her life and make her parents proud when the so-called couscous riots begin, changing her life and her self, forever. In late 2010, Nadia’s daughter Lila is staying with her mother’s best friends Neila and Mounir, while working to improve her Arabic when she meets Donia, a wealthy young revolutionary whose unhappiness with the status quo is infectious.
Monia Mazigh knows a thing or two about revolution, having lived through the Tunisian bread riots in the 1980s. She is most famous for her relentless campaigning to return to husband to Canada after the US government deported him to Syria in 2002. Her experiences during this period of unrest and her emigration to Canada inform Hope Has Two Daughters. The novel definitely feels personal.
Initially, I was not drawn in by the book’s flowery title, which seemed overly sentimental, but the first page dug into me with a shocking description of Nadia’s struggle on the toilet one morning. I thought I had underestimated the story I was about to read.
“I was questioning everything; I wanted no more of the futile and hypocritical life I’d been leading. Heart pounding, I could feel change rushing through my veins.”
—Monia Mazigh, Hope Has Two Daughters
Told in alternating first-person viewpoints, Hope Has Two Daughters is at times confusing. Having the same cast of characters populate both timelines leaves the reader without temporal anchors. It’s true that the 1980 “Neila” because “Auntie Neila” in 2010, but in other cases, keeping “Sonia” (1984) and “Donia” (2010) straight is challenging.
There are a number of issues with the language itself. The book was originally written in French and Translated into English by Fred A. Reed despite Mazigh’s trilingual capabilities in English, French, and Arabic. Knowing this was a book in translation, I forgave a number of questionable constructions and purple text (“She smiled a smile of gentle exasperation”), but I couldn’t get past the heavy reliance on cliché or the several instances of a missing prepositions. It really could have used another pass by a copy editor.
For a book about not one, but two revolutions, Hope Has Two Daughters is surprisingly bloodless. The majority of the action happens out of frame, with our protagonists mostly humming and hawing about whether or not they should get involved. When Nadia finally decides to act out, inspired by the injustice of her friend Mounir’s imprisonment, her bravery takes the form of talking smack to a classmate and disrespecting a teacher. Perhaps I’m spoiled in my safe Canadian haven, but haven’t we all done those things? Nadia’s great sacrifice was her schooling, while others lost their lives.
At the beginning of the Arab Spring, a massive event spanning borders, the most revolutionary act Lila manages is to attend two demonstrations: one where she gets a little bruised, and one where she is surrounded by her family, safe and protected, just before returning to her Canadian life, as spoiled and havenly as mine.
Hope Has Two Daughters does well developing the family drama, but fails to deliver on its promise of an insider’s perspective into the pain and injustice that causes an entire population to rise up.