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The Other Americans

By: Laila Lalami

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Imprint: Pantheon

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9781524747145

Other Formats:

Electronic | Audiobook Download

On Sale: | Pages: 320

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  • Reviews
From the Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Moor’s Account, here is a timely and powerful novel about the suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant—at once a family saga, a murder mystery, and a love story, informed by the treacherous fault lines of American culture. Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant living in California, is walking across a darkened intersection when he is killed by a speeding car. The repercussions of his death bring together a diverse cast of characters: Guerraoui’s daughter Nora, a jazz composer who returns to the small town in the Mojave she thought she'd left for good; his widow, Maryam, who still pines after 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 Iraq 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, connections among them emerge, even as Driss’s family confronts its secrets, a town faces its hypocrisies, and love, messy and unpredictable, is born.
...a novel that is as much a murder mystery as a perceptive depiction of how some folks are ruled by supposed disparities. Ms. Lalami's intentions are clear from the ingenious way she has structured her novel.... As can happen in books with multiple narrators, voices in “The Other Americans” sometimes blur. If not for the circumstances described, readers might occasionally have trouble distinguishing among narrators. And the chapter told from Salma's perspective feels superfluous. Yet “The Other Americans” is a powerful novel filled with magnificent details.... Ms. Lalami's work beautifully dramatizes the issues that can preclude understanding.
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With each chapter narrated by a different character, the novel feels fascinatingly encased in a superstructure made of glass. Much can be seen, but the world is crucially divided. Nora is the novel's focal voice. Although she is ever-present, she is elusive, a puzzle inside a puzzle.... The perspectives of Nora's mother, Maryam, and sister, Salma, are crucial but remain in the background... Other narrators — whose stories are fundamental to the plot — are intentionally underdeveloped. Around these gaps, “The Other Americans” becomes a novel threaded into our present: Its characters are troubled and distracted, they desire change, but they know less and less how to alter a hardened reality.
—New York Times
During her time of grief, Nora grows close to Jeremy, but their relationship is as fragile as she is. I loved reading their narrative because both are complex characters, and author Laila Lalami has carefully crafted them and the story around them. However, introducing the viewpoints of the other characters mentioned above makes the novel a bit confusing.... Still, THE OTHER AMERICANS is worth reading. The writing is superb, lyrical and beautiful, and I enjoyed immensely how Lalami crafted each different voice in a unique way.
Laila Lalami's splendid new novel “The Other Americans” begins with a death, a quick and mysterious one.... It's a tricky structure — the chapters are mostly short, and the voices almost overlap in our heads — but Lalami, author of “The Moor's Account,” which was a Pulitzer finalist and also longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, walks the tightrope confidently.... At once mystery novel, character study and poignant reflection on the immigrant experience, “The Other Americans” is the kind of book you read breathlessly, savoring each character's turn in the spotlight even as you miss the others. Together their voices create a vivid portrait of a time and place in America; a town of simmering resentments, wary tension, unexpected connections and uncanny beauty.
—Seattle Times
[Lalami] plunges into the lives of fictional yet convincingly real individuals who, despite their differences in origin and socioeconomic station, all have a whiff of the unwanted hovering about them, and a desperate wish for dignity lodged within them.... There is an undeniable perfunctoriness to all this; it feels as though Lalami is checking off a list of groups that social justice advocates have designated — however accurately — as disadvantaged. Moreover, she will at times skimp on showing in favor of telling... The tale's conclusion proves at once grim and hopeful. In a technical sense, this requires skilled calibration by the author. Crucially, however, Lalami's panoptic view is what enables her to strike such a balance at the end, and what establishes the novel's identity from the beginning. After all, “The Other Americans” might have emerged as a circumscribed account of a crime with one victim and one perpetrator. Instead, Lalami gives us a searching exploration of the lives of several individuals with whom mainstream American society has a vexed relationship.
—Washington Post
This deft, direct and absorbing story benefits from the craft Lalami brings to the English language; a reader senses the scholar who earned a doctorate in linguistics at the University of Southern California.
It's a paradigmatic American tale in which all people, regardless of race or creed, are equal in feeling like the mistreated Other. The poignancy of this diagnosis is that the convictions that unite Ms. Lalami's diverse cast are what doom them to distrust one other (though the novel takes pains to show that only some react to that distrust with violence). But stylistically, the emotional uniformity is a weakness.... The story is remarkably calm and subdued given the emotions it confronts. I wished that, once or twice, it had been allowed to snap.
—Wall Street Journal
Despite moments when Lalami draws deft connections between secular and religious beliefs, the novel contains unfortunate missteps. Each character speaks in the first person in alternating chapters in the manner of witnesses giving testimony, a clever technique with great potential, yet with little to distinguish one voice from the other, their differences merge into a curious homogeneity.... She has an abundance of talent and a dedication to the big questions of our time. Yet the trouble for any writer, no matter how gifted, who seeks to produce an explanatory novel about the myriad ills of a sick nation, is that characters risk becoming clichés.
—Boston Globe
From its first sentence, “The Other Americans,” the fourth work of fiction from Pulitzer Prize finalist Laila Lalami, grabs the reader with its directness and urgency.... One of the reasons the novel recalls an audio podcast is because each of these voices is so clear. But as their testimonies accumulate, much more develops than the solution to the mystery, which is nearly overshadowed by the novel's other accomplishments. Just as much as it is a mystery, it is a social novel about race and class, it is a love story, and it is an immigrant family drama.... The ending of a book like this can fail in many ways. Lalami avoids all of the pitfalls, answering most but not all of the questions in the reader's mind, and quietly delivering the only answer to the terrible divisions, prejudices and misunderstandings that fuel her plot.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
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