From the Pulitzer Prize finalist, author of The Moor's Account—a timely new novel about the suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant that is at once a family saga, a murder mystery, and a love story, all of it informed by the treacherous fault lines of American culture.
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 ...
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.