The Other Americans

A Novel
Length: 10 hrs and 45 mins
4 out of 5 stars (385 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

National Book Award finalist

Kirkus Prize finalist

Aspen Literary Prize longlist

A Best Book of 2019: NPR, TimeVariety, Bookpage, NYPLA Washington Post notable book

A Los Angeles Times best seller

From the Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Moor’s Account, here is a timely and powerful novel about the suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant - at once a family saga, a murder mystery, and a love story, informed by the treacherous fault lines of American culture. 

Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant living 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, an old friend of Nora's and an Iraq War veteran; Coleman, a detective who is slowly discovering her son's secrets; Anderson, a neighbor trying to reconnect with his family; and the murdered man himself. 

As the characters - deeply divided by race, religion, and class - tell their stories, connections among them emerge, even as Driss’ family confronts its secrets, a town faces its hypocrisies, and love, messy and unpredictable, is born.

©2019 Laila Lalami (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

Named a most anticipated book for 2019: Entertainment Weekly, The Boston Globe, New York Magazine/Vulture, The Millions, Bustle, Electric Literature, Nylon, HuffPost, BookPage, The BBC, and Buzzfeed.

"Powerful.... 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." (Publishers Weekly

“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.'” (Booklist)

"Lalami is in thrilling command of her narrative gifts, reminding readers why The Moor's Account was a Pulitzer finalist.... Nuanced characters drive this novel.... Lalami expertly mines an American penchant for rendering the 'other.'" (Kirkus Reviews

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Solid Read

Great book to analyze using cultural, postcolonial, and feminist lenses. Liked the flashback chapters and use of carnival in the text.

9 people found this helpful

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Don't bother - there are so many better stories

I had to read this book for my book club and really cannot understand why this, of all books, was recommended. The story is just one long tale of depressed people who are not at all self aware and are just miserable. Yes, the story starts with the father being killed, so grief is expected - but this was just a big waste of time. I like to learn something from the books I read, or at least touch issues that make me think and feel. This story does none of that.

Oh, and the narration is terrible. They had like seven different people doing one character each. Even with that easy an assignment, most of the narration was not very good at all. But even if I had read this and not listened I wouldn't have liked the story any better. Save your credits!!

8 people found this helpful

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Satisfying listen. Don't hesitate!

Beautifully written and narrated. At first the cast of characters narrated by different individuals takes a while for the ear to adjust to and I got confused, but as soon as the different voices become familiar, the storyline flows. Took a dip in the middle but at Chapter 40 onwards I couldn't stop listening every moment I could, beyond my commutes.

10 people found this helpful

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Solid Premise w-Scattered Execution

There’s a strong novel buried in the book we get here. In fact, I’d even say there are two potentially strong novels here. As it is, though, neither gets either the room or the attention really to shine out, and the result is a novel substantially weaker than Lalami’s earlier, excellent The Moor’s Account.

The Moor’s Account shone because it offered a different foundational narrative for America. Our narrator, Mustafa/Estebanico, is a Muslim slave of a would-be Spanish conquistador, and he takes part in a dramatically failed expedition to find gold in modern day Florida. It’s a big topic told from the striking perspective of a man of color, a Muslim, a slave, and someone opposed to the whole colonial project.

Yet, in a way, he is an “other American,” himself – a figure whose story informs our larger American one even as he falls outside of the histories we tell ourselves.

If The Moor’s Account is a sustained (and successful) exercise in voice, this is a quilt of different voices. Instead of sustained chapters in which Mustafa/Estebanico sorts through the contradictions of his life and addresses his fears that he will be forgotten, we get short chapters from a range of different perspectives. The book seldom sits still long enough to give us a developed character. Above all, for me at least, this falls short because of the way it interrupts one account after another, deferring not just plot points but the full expression of the characters we encounter.

That said, the premise – or I should say the original premise – is very strong. A Muslim restaurant owner is killed in a hit-and-run that might have been a hate crime.

In the first half of the book, we have a kind of whodunit, with the victim’s daughter – Nora, our central character – intent on figuring out who’s guilty. There’s a sub-plot of an undocumented Mexican-American man who witnessed a part of the accident who has to decide whether to report what he saw, or almost saw. There’s another about a high school friend of Nora’s who kindles a you-can-see-it-coming romance with her. And there’s a sister who, seemingly perfect in her American success, is hiding a painkiller addition. And there’s the older white man who owns the bowling alley next door and nurses a politics of resentment. And there is the African-American female detective who, good at her job also juggles the responsibilities of being a worried mother. And there is the mother who wishes she’d never come to America. And there is the dead father who, conveniently, supplies flashbacks just in time to resolve seeming mysteries.

So, yeah, I don’t think it’s much of a mystery, and I don’t think Lalami does either. Roughly halfway through we [SPOILER:] learn that the car that hit Driss was owned by the bowling alley owner next door.

At that point, the premise seems to shift from solving a mystery to coming to terms with the seeming reality that it’s hard to find the line between accident and malice. Oh, and while we’re at it, Nora’s romance with Jeremy heats up so that she is both angrily grieving her father and instantly falling in love with someone she hasn’t thought of since high school.

I think the best of the novel deals with the gray area of the crime/accident, and Lalami has some moments of impressive insight all along. She does a strong job bringing the mother’s voice forward, and she often gets off a strong inner monologue for a character in the midst of an emotional crisis. But, since none of that is sustained and we have so wide a range of different characters, those insights seldom accumulate into something sustained and moving.

[SECOND SPOILER:] At the end, just as the novel seems to lean into its premise that love, mourning, racism, and what it means to be an American all situate in a gray area, we learn that the real culprit isn’t the bowling alley owner but his son, a long-time bully of Nora and Jeremy. He is the epitome of the ugly American, someone who’s self-satisfied and – this being the age of Trump – reasserting the privilege of his nativism and racism.

Oh, and Nora – having dumped Jeremy to return to her life as a contemporary composer – returns in the final pages to reconcile with Jeremy. Happy, sort of, ever after.

There are glimpses of skill here, though not enough to make me quite understand how the same author wrote this and The Moor’s Account. This is, ultimately, conventional even as it thoughtfully weaves a Muslim-American perspective into a larger vision of an “other America.” In contrast, The Moor’s Account, committing to one voice and one larger question, asks a similar question in a singular, tragic voice.

3 people found this helpful

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A drag

There were many narrators and except for Ephraim each had a singsong quality. They were all full of self-pity and boring.

3 people found this helpful

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Beautifully read. Timely story.

Fantastic set of readers to carry the the many voices of this story. Lalami’s narrative seeks answers to the questions: what is home? Who is “a real American”? And who gets to decide? Even more poignant in these times once again filled with hate for immigrants.

3 people found this helpful

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Reminds me of home

I read about this author and ther review on this book in the L.A. Times calendar section one Sunday and it caught my attention. Mainly because it mentioned Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree, which is where I live so i gave it a try. Number one it read nice to know all of ther places ther author mentioned, street names, old markets, schools, etc. but it was also a great story. A story about growing up, different cultures, war, love, family.

3 people found this helpful

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Current and interesting story!

Multiple viewpoints on complexities of US geopolitics, seamlessly and gracefully threaded around a wonderful thriller and, in a way, a whodunit. Page turner!

My least favorite part is the narrator for Jeremy, but somehow it works with the character.

3 people found this helpful

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Ok

The story was mediocre. I’m surprised I stuck it out. I particularly didn’t like the Jeremy character and really didn’t like the way he was portrayed by the person who read the part. Nora was the only person who interested me; perhaps it was because the reader of her character did a good job.

2 people found this helpful

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Three Sides to Every Story

Really enjoyed this book!

Provided a story-telling aspect similar to the movie “CRASH”...

Multiple characters, telling their version of how they lived this shared experience..

Great listen!

2 people found this helpful