Carve out some reading time before you pick up Laila Lalami's new novel The Other Americans. You won't want to get up from your chair for some time, maybe even until you've reached the last page. You're in the hands of a maestra of literary fiction, someone who has combined a riveting police procedural with a sensitive examination of contemporary life in California's Mojave Desert region ... [Lalami is] superb at creating different cadences on the page, recognizing that even when speaking in a relatively similar tone, people's voices carry ... if someone asked me to name one book I think at least grapples with the problem of trying to be The Great American Novel, I'd name The Other Americans ... excellent ...
Laila Lalami...skillfully investigates the nuances of difference in The Other Americans, 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.
Now, with her novel The Other Americans, [Lalami] plunges into the lives of fictional yet convincingly real individuals ... There is an undeniable perfunctoriness to [the book]; 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.
On one level, the Guerraouis, their modest accomplishments, and even more modest dreams, serve as a perfect locus for the troubles that ail a nation, particularly post-9/11. Change has come to America, and there are always brown people to blame. On another, this explanation is simplistic in its calculus. We do not read fiction to wring our hands at yet another crisis precipitated by racism but to discover some larger truth. For that we need breadth and depth. Lalami’s novel, lacking focus, falters on both counts ... 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 ... [Lalami] has an abundance of talent and a dedication to the big questions of our time.
... a less skilled author might have produced an overly didactic text in the hope of exploring [the book's questions]. But Lalami largely avoids this impulse by imbuing her characters with a vitality that bridges the gaps between their identities and their interiority. They occupy a range of different social positions, but Lalami’s characters most often read like people, not avatars of representation. They are funny, cantankerous, and affecting. They keep secrets from one another, and, most thrillingly, from themselves ... One of the novel’s most poignant successes is how deftly Lalami builds a sense of inexorable terror as the characters recount their lives before Driss’s killing ... Throughout the novel, Lalami’s attention to contrast and contradiction is stunning. Her prose is incisive and lived-in, as though culled from decades of listening in on private conversations between older family members. In this, Nora’s chapters are the strongest ... To the extent that The Other Americans is a mystery or procedural, the novel does offer an answer to its central case, a nudge toward some small amount of justice. Even so, the book’s conclusion about American identity is a far more tenuous one than this legal resolution: For people on the country’s margins, particularly immigrants, no gesture of patriotism will ever be enough.
Rage simmers throughout Ms. Lalami’s novel, though it’s mostly kept under the surface ... stylistically, the emotional uniformity is a weakness. The same precise, introspective sensibility informs all the first-person voices, even in the curious chapters narrated by Driss, apparently from the grave. A mutual sadness drapes the book like a shroud. The story is remarkably calm and subdued given the emotions it confronts. I wished that, once or twice, it had been allowed to snap.
[Lalami's] other first-person narrators are fleshed out in quick but compelling detail ... Lalami switches between their voices with deft skill — even minor characters feel refreshingly individual ... The drawback with having nine narrators is that there isn’t enough room for some characters to emerge into the light, and you’re left wanting to know more about the choices they make. But Lalami chose this form deliberately, perhaps suggesting that no American story can be seen or understood in isolation ... confirms Lalami’s reputation as one of the country’s most sensitive interrogators, probing at the fault lines in family, and the wider world.
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 ... In short chapters that accumulate like episodes of a true crime podcast, a tightening circle of characters share their perspectives ... 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.
... melancholy ... The Other Americans is one of the most affecting novels I have read about race and immigration post-9/11. It is shot through with the hopes and humiliations of being a good immigrant, of people working hard to reconcile the cultures they grew up in with life in their adopted country ... Lalami’s prose is smart and unsentimental. She is deft at conveying the strained, compromised nature of family relationships. If the structure of the story becomes a little schematic, it is compensated by fully realised characters, who are never reduced to vessels of our present conflicts. It’s a novel that reaches beyond its immediate setting to illuminate more universal themes of loss, alienation and betrayal. Subtle, wise and full of humanity, The Other Americans deserves a wide audience.
... splendid ... You have the sense here of a handful of fully realized novels, all circling each other; each of these characters meriting his or her own story ... Lalami’s writing has the calmness of a desert sky, with each voice finding its own breath ... 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.
Pulitzer Prize finalist Laila Lalami... artfully infuses her crime saga with tremendous empathy ... Lalami’s scrupulous construction lends The Other Americans a page-turning excitement. Some characters only pop in when most convenient, their personal dilemmas relatively slight — contributions, and little more, to the book’s larger arguments. But each gets a moment that strikes like a thunderbolt: electric, resounding, and precisely delivered ... the novel fundamentally focuses on the intricate dynamics of life in the here and now. It provides a nuanced response to the whiff of malaise in the air, the animus taking over the American day-to-day ... The conclusion reads unusually, tentatively hopeful. Let it settle, though, and it feels, if not satisfying, at least appropriate. In a novel that knows hate but believes in people — that ultimate contradiction — a little optimism goes a long way.
... The Other Americans reads like a multi-voice confessional that wouldn’t be out of place in one of the talk shows Maryam loves to watch—if those talk shows also exhibited Lalami’s sharp storytelling skills and precise language, of course ... The whodunit element of the novel is interesting enough, but it is evident from the get-go that this isn’t the mystery Lalami cares to explore. Even superficial fans of murder mysteries will easily guess the identity of the driver somewhere along the way. What’s more riveting are the secrets behind each narrator ... Although Lalami commands the attention of her readers with her expert pace and acute insights, she makes a few missteps. Efraín ends up being nothing more than a plot device ... A few dream sequences feel like amateur gestures for a writer who usually soars above such platitudes. And there were moments of what can only be described as forced political psychoanalysis ... Ultimately, the novel is engrossing.
The multiple voices are handled with restrained mastery by Lalami, who eschews drama to focus on nuance and detail, offering an ever-shifting perspective on events ... Lalami brilliantly underplays the rising pressure in this simmering desert town as Nora’s questioning reveals a history of resentment between her father and his neighbour, who had wanted to buy the Guerraoui property, as well as secrets her father hid from his own family ... The Other Americans demonstrates brilliantly, in ways foreseen and unforeseen, as often denied as acknowledged, how the personal and political enmesh in all our lives.
Now and then the story is nearly drowned out by the nine narrating voices, yet Lalami impressively conducts this chorus of flawed yet graceful human beings to mellifluous effect ... An eloquent reminder that frame of reference is everything when defining the 'other.'
The Other Americans thrusts [Lalami's] fiction into a league of necessary literature, along with Luis Alberto Urrea, Devi S. Laskar, Mohsin Hamid, and Valeria Luiselli ... In all, Lalami never loses the touch of human dignity in her cast of characters, allowing her to slip between points of view with ease ... Though not receiving equal voice — and I think that’s the point, they’re decentered here — the white perspective balances out the immigrant story line in the novel. Its honest rage of feeling under siege comes across earnestly in Lalami’s hands ... If the novel suffers from anything, it’s that Lalami’s ambitious project of nine first-person narrators could leave readers wanting more ... But, seen from a different angle, this uneven arrangement of voices in a single community helps make Lalami’s point of how chaotic and decentered representation continues to be for minorities and recent immigrants.
... Lalami’s book is a stunning and necessary look at a country struggling with racism, resentment and the aftermath of war ... The Other Americans manages to be many books at once: a gripping literary thriller, a complex love story and a sharp critique of an America wracked by war and hatred, divided against itself, constantly near a breaking point. And Lalami succeeds admirably on all fronts: The novel is intricately plotted, up to its shocking but unforced end. There are no unnecessary plot twists; Lalami is an intelligent author who’s not in love with her own cleverness ... all of the characters in the book are rendered beautifully, with dialogue that’s both natural and compelling ... The Other Americans is a beautiful, compassionate novel from a writer with keen insight into the human condition and a rare gift for crafting perfect prose.
... [Lalami's] vision [is] taut and her prose detailed yet concise ... Some characters are not well rounded and at times the medley can feel as if Lalami is too consciously striving to include every type of outsider voice. Some, though, are immensely strong, and Lalami has used them to fashion a moving and exceptionally rich portrait of a modern American community, one that is much more far-reaching than just a saga of immigration.
... rich, polyphonic ... That Lalami allows Driss to speak for himself initially feels like a misstep, partly because his beyond-the-grave narration disrupts the novel’s logic, but mostly because it quashes early mystery generated by hints of his double life ... Unflashy almost to the point of comedy, happy to include humdrum dialogue about, say, weather or food seasoning, the novel’s round-robin mode nonetheless accumulates a kind of revelatory power, setting aside top-down commentary in favour of side-by-side juxtaposition – a narrative style that ultimately functions as a plea for more listening, as well as highlighting the quiet irony of the title, which ends up being hard to read as anything more than just 'Americans'.
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 ... The Other Americans considers quotidian grievances and resentment, but it is blessedly free of the finger-wagging that creeps into too much contemporary immigrant fiction ... Lalami’s storytelling delivers quiet pleasure and glints of humor ... The novel isn’t perfect. A few sentences veer into melodrama and the ending lands a bit pat. But this haunting story also puts the reader in mind of Toni Morrison’s prescient observation: 'Much of the alarm hovering at the borders, the gates, is stoked, it seems to me, by … an uneasy relationship with our own foreignness, our own rapidly disintegrating sense of belonging.'
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. It opens up too many plotlines, not all of which are connected to the main story. Furthermore, Lalami does not give us any indication of what happens to these supporting players, which often made me frustrated. 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.
Lalami is in thrilling command of her narrative gifts, reminding readers why The Moor’s Account (2014) was a Pulitzer finalist ... The author, who holds a doctorate in linguistics, is precise with language ... Nuanced characters drive this novel, and each voice gets its variation ... A crime slowly unmasks a small town’s worth of resentment and yearning.
Powerful ... The novel depicts characters who are individually treated differently because of his or her race, religion, or immigration histories, but its focus is the sense of alienation all of them share. In a narrative that succeeds as mystery and love story, family and character study, Lalami captures the complex ways humans can be strangers not just outside their 'tribes' but within them, as well as to themselves.