The Other Americans comes out in the US today from author Laila Lalami, whose novel, The Moor’s Account, was nominated for the Pulitzer.
The Other Americans is at once a family saga, a mystery, and a romance. Nora, the daughter of Moroccan immigrants, is sitting in a restaurant with a friend when she finds out that her father was killed in a hit and run crash. As the police try to find whoever is responsible, Nora reconnects with old friends and enemies and unearths secrets.
I found Nora’s family dynamic utterly relatable. She is a disappointment to her parents; her mother, specifically, constantly tries to reform Nora, who chose music (of all things) as a career and has had a string of relationships instead of settling down. She gets compared to her sensible sister who became a dentist, married an Arab man, and had two kids. I found the family members the most interesting characters, and I would have preferred to see more of them.
But this novel is more a portrait of a small town in a Californian desert than it is a portrait of the family. As the investigation unfolds, we follow a large cast of characters, including Nora, her mother, her father, and her sister but also including the lead investigator on the case, an old friend of Nora’s, a witness to the accident, and others. I have to commend Lalami: she writes all of these perspectives in the first person and pulls it off. I’m not sure, however, that I gained a lot through all those other perspectives. For example, we learn a lot about the investigating officer’s personal life, and I just didn’t find it that interesting or necessary to the story.
This novel tackles xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism. At its heart, it’s a story that shows that everyone has secrets, everyone has someone they want to protect, and that everyone struggles with their own crimes and guilt.
The ending was a little disappointing for me. I disliked the main characters’ choices at the end, and I feel like there were some subplots that were never quite resolved. So, the verdict is that this novel isn’t my favorite, but I am definitely interested in reading the rest of her work.
Please let me know your thoughts if you’ve read this or if you’re interested in reading this. Did anyone else want to see more of the family?
Also let me know what you thought about the title. I love it, but I’ve been struggling to interpret it satisfactorily. So far, my thoughts are the obvious ones: that first- and second-generation immigrants like Nora and her family consider themselves Americans even as they are othered by their neighbors. Let me know.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐/5
Thank you to Edelweiss and Penguin Random House for providing an eARC of this book.