This might be the best novel I’ve read this year. From the author’s background and the title, I was expecting the focus to be on the racism and challenges of assimilation that immigrants face. It is that, but its scope is so much broader. A cast of nine characters shares the narration of this story, central to which is a hit-an-run accident that kills a Moroccan immigrant to the U.S. These disparate perspectives highlight just how very much the baggage of our pasts affects the present, that one can never really know a person or his motivations. And so we stereotype and make assumptions, and work hard to erect barriers to understanding and intimacy, often within our own families. In the end, I interpret the title as meaning that each person is “other” to everyone else—we are all the other Americans who are just trying to fit in while trying to stand out, and wanting to be understood, but often failing to understand others. Ah, but to accept the present, imperfect though it may be, and to succeed at making a connection is, well, when darkness is diminished and life becomes sweeter. This one book spoke volumes of universal truths to me.
Late one spring night in California, Driss Guerraoui—father, husband, business owner, Moroccan immigrant—is hit and killed by a speeding car. The aftermath of his death brings together a diverse cast of characters: Guerraoui's daughter Nora, a jazz composer returning to the small town in the Mojave she thought she'd left for good; her mother, Maryam, who still pines for her life in the old country; Efraín, an undocumented witness whose fear of deportation prevents him from coming forward; Jeremy, an old friend of Nora’s and an Iraqi War veteran; Coleman, a detective who is slowly discovering her son’s secrets; Anderson, a neighbor trying to reconnect with his family; and the murdered man himself.
As the characters—deeply divided by race, religion, and class—tell their stories, each in their own voice, connections among them emerge. Driss’s family confronts its secrets, a town faces its hypocrisies, and love—messy and unpredictable—is born. Timely, riveting, and unforgettable, The Other Americans is at once a family saga, a murder mystery, and a love story informed by the treacherous fault lines of American culture.
About the Author
Laila Lalami is the author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Secret Son, and The Moor's Account, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and which won the American Book Award, the Arab American Book Award, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, Harper's Magazine, and The Guardian. In 2019, she was awarded the Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize for her body of work. A professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside, she lives in Los Angeles. www.lailalalami.com
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
“[A] page-turning mystery. . . . Lalami may be our finest contemporary chronicler of immigration and its discontents.” —The Washington Post
“You’re in the hands of a maestra of literary fiction. . . . Riveting. . . . Excellent.” —NPR
“Timely and eloquent.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Revelatory. . . . Lalami is at the height of her powers in this poignant symphony of perspectives about the painful complexity of life as a Muslim American.” —Esquire
“A beautiful, compassionate novel from a writer with keen insight into the human condition and a rare gift for crafting perfect prose.” —Los Angeles Times
“A powerful novel of intolerance and compassion, resilience and weakness, love and loss.” —The Economist
“A complex dialogue on race, identity and politics; this book is a sign of the times we live in today.” —Vogue
“Demonstrates brilliantly, in ways foreseen and unforeseen, as often denied as acknowledged, how the personal and political enmesh in all our lives.” —The Guardian
“A compelling portrait of race and immigration in America. . . . Lalami is remarkably skilled at rendering the interior lives of her cast.” —Time
“Lalami’s scrupulous construction lends The Other Americans a page-turning excitement. . . . Her interrogation is rigorous, and her provocations—about love’s dangerous power, the ties between resentment and privilege—resonate through to the last page.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Impeccably written. . . . I love the depth of character here for Nora and Jeremy. The narrative is good from many points of view but theirs is the heart of this story and what a beautiful beating heart it is.” —Roxane Gay
“This deftly constructed account of a crime and its consequences shows up, in its quiet way, the pressures under which ordinary Americans of Muslim background have labored since the events of 9/11.” —J. M. Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
“A writer of uncommon conviction and tremendous insight.” —Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer
“A combo love story, mystery and literary exploration of immigration in America.” —Nicholas Kristof
“Confirms Lalami’s reputation as one of the country’s most sensitive interrogators, probing at the fault lines in family, and the wider world.” —Financial Times
“Splendid. . . . The Other Americans is the kind of book you read breathlessly, savoring each character’s turn in the spotlight.” —The Seattle Times