In The Other Americans, Pulitzer Prize finalist Laila Lalami uses the hit-and-run death of a Moroccan father in the Mojave Desert to interrogate ideas of identity, nationality, immigration and belonging.
When she learns of her father’s death, Nina Guerraoui (one of the novel’s many narrators) — a struggling composer who makes ends meet by substitute teaching, much to the chagrin of her mother (another narrator), who always expected so much more — returns to her patents’ home in Yucca Valley, and into a family on the brink of destruction.
Her father, Driss (who, despite his death, is a narrator as the narrative flits briefly into the past) was always Nora’s rock — a persistent supporter of her music and independence — and without him as the bedrock, Nora’s relationship with mother and sister, who of course chose a conventional path of marriage, kids, and a lucrative career — happiness personified, it would seem — is severely strained. Unable to grieve, Nora pushes the detective in charge of the investigation, Erica Coleman (an African American police officer with family issues of her own, who, yep, is another narrator) to determine who killed her father. As she waits for answers, which she hopes will allow her to move on, she encounters Jeremy Gorecki (an Iraq war veteran, and another narrator), a former elementary school classmate, which lead to a blossoming romance she’s not entirely certain is right for her: at his juncture? Ever?
These characters are linked not just by the death of Driss, but the sense of alienation they share as a result of their race and religion, which is succulent fictional territory for sure, but with nine separate first-person point-of-view characters, the potency of Lalami’s exploration of these themes is diluted, as some of the voices become homogenized — not archetypal, just toneless — and the novel’s pacing uneven, as the narrative wrestles with its own identity: is it a mystery? A love story? A family drama? The Other Americans is all of these and more, but these parts never form a cohesive whole.
This is a book I wanted to love — felt compelled to love after reading Roxane Gay’s glowing review — and though I admire Lalami for casting such a wide net, I was never entirely spellbound by what she pulled to shore.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: Bloomsbury Circus
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 26-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom