Friday, 5 April 2019

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami


The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
Published by Bloomsbury on the 26th March 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


There wasn't anything I could do. All I saw was a man falling to the ground.

Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant in California, is walking across a darkened intersection when he is killed by a speeding car. The repercussions of his death bring together a diverse cast of characters: Guerraoui's daughter Nora, a jazz composer who returns to the small town in the Mojave she thought she'd left for good; his widow Maryam, who still pines after her life in the old country; Efraín, an undocumented witness whose fear of deportation prevents him from coming forward; Jeremy, a former classmate of Nora's and now a veteran of the Iraq war; Coleman, a detective who is slowly discovering her son's secrets; Anderson, a neighbor trying to reconnect with his family; and Driss himself.

As the characters – deeply divided by race, religion and class – tell their stories in The Other Americans, Driss's family is forced to confront its secrets, a town faces its hypocrisies and love, in all its messy and unpredictable forms, is born.

The Other Americans is an interesting portrayal of the intersection of a number of lives, brought together as the result of a seemingly random hit and run accident. Through the novel we read numerous first person chapters from a large cast of characters, getting to know their thoughts and experiences from both before and after the man was killed. I liked the idea of the multiple viewpoints, but would have preferred that there be fewer of them because not all the characters were strongly defined so I sometimes forgot whose words I was reading.

The novel moves across genres so at the beginning it felt like it might become a whodunnit, then it was more of a slice-of-life family drama, then we swooped into a romance. I thought these changes worked well and allowed Lalami to explore a wider variety of social issues than perhaps a more traditionally genred novel might have done. Not everything is given the attention that perhaps I would have liked though. For example, near the beginning, we learn that Nora has synaesthesia and I thought it would be be interesting to gain a greater understanding of this condition through the novel. However it isn't mentioned again so that was a dead end. Like with the number of narrators, I felt that greater concentration on fewer avenues might have made for a more compelling read. I did enjoy The Other Americans, but wasn't as gripped by it as I had hoped.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Laila Lalami / Contemporary fiction / Books from Morocco

4 comments:

  1. Sorry to her you didn't like it as much as you'd hoped you would.

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    1. It's still a pretty good story, but I had high hopes that it didn't quite live up to

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  2. This one actually really makes me think of In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende. It has the same kind of premise of three characters with different cultural backgrounds coming together after they meet by a car crash! I really liked that one as it seems you enjoyed this, I would also recommend it to you :)

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    1. I need to read more Allende! Will take a look at In The Midst of Winter :-)

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