"The Other Americans" by Laila Lalami raises the questions of integrity, belonging

The Moroccan-American novelist tackles on her book “The Other Americans" the issue of migration differently, by switching points of view, feelings, testimonials and opinions.

RABAT – Moroccan-American author Laila Lalami, presented, Monday in Rabat, her novel “The Other Americans”, a work recounting the bitter fate of a family of Moroccan origin settled in the US and craving the American dream.

The book, translated into French by Bourgois and then reissued by Le Fennec Editions in 2020, was featured at a literary meeting held by the Hassan II Foundation for Moroccans Living Abroad in the presence of the author.

“The Other Americans” portrays the tragedy of a family of Moroccan origin living in California and bereaved by the death of its patriarch Driss Guerraoui, killed in a hit and run car accident. The crash prompts a police investigation and opens the door to questions about issues such as migration, identity and belonging.

Speaking at the meeting, Lalami said she was honoured to present  a book which offers “a panoramic view of American society,” focusing on “the lives of the immigrant community”.

She said “The first page of this book calls out the question of whether the death was the result of accident or a murder,” elaborating on the key milestones in the writing of the novel, which she started in 2014 and which was published in the United States in 2019.

The Other Americans

“The Other Americans” contemplates “the personal dimension and the political dimension and puts the two in dialogue,” she added, speaking of the different characters in the novel who take turns telling their stories.

These voices unite and contradict each other as they recount their daily lives in today’s America.

“In each creation there is a part of the author and a part of imagination,” said Lalami on the inspirations of her novel.

Publisher Layla Chaouni (Le Fennec Editions) pointed out the particularity of the novel, which challenges and tackles the issue of migration differently, by switching points of view, feelings, testimonials and opinions.

“It is a very interesting novel from a literary point of view because it explores the world of a family that has chosen to settle in the United States and presents a polyphonic vision of the American society”, she explained.

The literary meeting featured a Q&A session with the author and a book-signing session.

Someone who asks questions

Laila Lalami was born in Rabat and educated in Morocco, Great Britain and the United States. She is the author of five novels, including “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits” (2005), “Secret Son” (2009) and “The Moor’s Account” (2015) which won the American Book Award, the Arab-American Book Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.

“The Other Americans” was a national bestseller in the US and a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Award in Fiction. “Conditional Citizens”, a work of non-fiction, is her most recent book.

Interviewed by the MAP agency on the occasion the meeting, the novelist said “ I define myself as a writer. I am someone who asks questions. I’m a little more interested in the questions than in the answers. I feel that questions give one the opportunity to explore ideas. I write fiction and non-fiction”.

She added: “I feel that all my works put Moroccans at the centre of the story, whether the story is fiction or non-fiction. In my first novel, “Hope and Other Dangerous Quests” I dealt with the theme of immigration to Europe, while my third book “The Moor’s Account” followed the fictional journey of Mustafa Zemmouri or Estebanico, the first black slave to explore the Americas. “The Other Americans” follows the story of a Moroccan immigrant who dies in the United States. In all my books, there is this focus on Moroccans and especially on immigrants”.

Talking about her sources of inspiration she said “I have many. Throughout my career, I have been inspired by Moroccan, European and American authors. Among the Moroccan writers, I cite the great Mohamed Choukri, Driss Chraibi and, of course, Fatima Mernissi. For international writers, I would mention the South African author J M Coetzee as well as US authors Toni Morrison and William Faulkner.”