I read Conditional Citizens as a first-generation immigrant, a Jewish refugee from the former Soviet Union who has been teased for being 'a commie' and 'a Russian spy' but also complimented on successful assimilation by those who knew nothing of the process. I read Conditional Citizens while holed up in my apartment, immunocompromised and afraid of catching or spreading the novel coronavirus.I read Conditional Citizens as a break from scrolling through social media feeds and learning about ordinary individuals who couldn’t get tested until it was too late, while celebrities got diagnosed and treated. I saw the president lean hard into racism and xenophobia, repeatedly saying 'Chinese virus,' and thus tacitly encouraging harassment and violence against Asian Americans ... This is why books like Conditional Citizens are important. They remind us that the dichotomy of citizen and non-citizen is too facile. Even legal citizenship does not guarantee cultural citizenship, equality under the law, or safety from state brutality ... Lalami does not offer her readers the option of hopelessness and disengagement. On the contrary, her words compel us to keep returning to the question of who belongs in the United States, and under what conditions, and to remember that the stakes of this question are about not merely feelings, or even 'entitlements,' but survival itself ... Conditional Citizens is a tightly crafted and highly accessible book. Those who carry around the US Constitution should consider adding this book to their collection, if only to remind them of how the Constitution fails, by design, to protect those who live among them but experience citizenship as restricted, situational, or entirely out of reach.
In this eloquent and troubling account, novelist and National Book Award–finalist Lalami...draws on her personal history as 'an immigrant, a woman, an Arab, and a Muslim' to argue that becoming a U.S. citizen does not necessarily mean becoming 'an equal member of the American family.'
While walls may seem to offer security, as Lalami points out, the climate change that “unfettered industrialization” has created will eventually render both walls and checkpoints useless. Consistently thoughtful and incisive, the book confronts the perils of our modern age with truths to inspire the coalition-building necessary to American cultural and democratic survival ... A bracingly provocative collection perfect for our times.