Lulu in Marrakech

Lulu in Marrakech
By Diane Johnson
320 pages; Dutton


When the expatriated protagonist of Diane Johnson's novel Lulu in Marrakech (Dutton) was a girl in California, her aunt advised her to never tell anyone she could type. Good advice. Eluding the secretarial pool in Peoria, she landed in Marrakech, pursuing the love of English businessman Ian Drumm as cover for her CIA mission to trace the flow of money from wealthy donors to radical Islamic groups. Unsure of her potential as an infiltrator in a country where "knowledge is in someone's head, it's recorded in the knots of a camel's bridle, in certain passages of the Koran," Lulu wavers between her commitment to the agency, which insists she "behave and take orders" ("like Ingrid Bergman," she says), and her daydreams of being married ("like million of other women"). She is surrounded by other women, each oppressed according to their cultures, an Algerian named Suma, whose brother is intent on killing her if she cannot prove her virginity, a Saudi named Gazi who has also had an affair with Ian and therefore cannot return to her country, husband, or children. There is Posy, pregnant and stuck in a marriage to a blowhard aging English poet, and Desi, a 13-year-old Moroccan who gets pressed into everything from gynecological fraud to suicide bombing. Timely and provocatively incorrect, Lulu in Marrakech is part page-turning thriller, part in-depth examination of gender inequality and the "perennial eye infection of colonialism."

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