The novel is told from multiple viewpoints: Nora, Driss’s composer daughter; Jeremy Gorecki, an Iraq veteran and Nora’s former classmate; Erica Coleman, the newly arrived police detective investigating the killing; Anderson Baker, a bowling alley proprietor who owns the property adjacent to the family’s diner; the widowed Maryam Guerraoui; and even the deceased Driss himself. 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...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.
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.
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. As each picks up the thread of the story, they reveal delicious morsels about themselves that prove to be more gasp-worthy than any clue regarding the killer. These revelations tackle and complicate issues regarding the pursuit and failure of the American dream, the immigrant narrative of success and assimilation, the questionable privilege of racial passing and its resulting erasure, and more, pointing out that the real enigma is the idea of what being an American even means. The book argues that no condition may be more American than that of alienation.
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 is not Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post territory, with cute family Thanksgivings and kids going fishing with dad. Lalami’s people are the ‘other’ Americans: first- or second-generation migrants; an African–American ill at ease in her own country; a police officer who served in Iraq and gets asked suspiciously: ‘You Polish?’ when he gives his name: Gorecki. A sense of alienation bleeds into the everyday. They face indignities, large and small; marginalised people, disappointed with the present, yearning for that foreign country where they do things differently... The tessellated structure of The Other Americans means that the narrative sometimes loses focus, and the emerging love story is not altogether convincing; but the multiple viewpoints give it the breadth of a family saga with the suspense of a mystery and, finally, the satisfying resolution of a thriller.
Lalami, who was born in Morocco and now lives in Los Angeles, writes elegant, genre-bending fiction that provides readers with complex individuals to associate with the word “immigrant”....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.