"From the Pulitzer Prize finalist, author of The Moor's Account--a timely and powerful 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. Nora Guerraoui, a jazz composer, returns home to a small town in the Mojave after hearing that her father, owner of a popular restaurant there, has been killed in a suspicious hit-and-run car accident. Told by multiple narrators--Nora herself, Jeremy (the Iraq war veteran with whom she develops an intimacy), widow Maryam, Efrain (an immigrant witness to the accident who refuses to get involved for fear of deportation), Coleman (the police investigator), and Driss (the dead man himself), The Other Americans deftly explores one family's secrets and hypocrisies even as it offers a portrait of Americans riven by race, class, and religion, living side by side, yet ignorant of the vicissitudes that each tribe, as it were, faces" --
She also has a recurring error in this book. THERE ARE NO TUTLEDOVES IN CALIFORNIA. In North America! How did this get through? It is repeated many times. Nora's doves are most likely mourning doves, your standard North American A/C-nester. There's an off chance they could be introduced collared doves, I have no idea if those live out in the desert, or a native but much less common ground dove (again, I have no idea if these nest in the desert). But there's a 99% chance they are mourning doves. So why call them turtledoves? This was honestly infuriating and disrupting to the story for me.
The story itself is good, but nothing (including the "twist") was surprising. Nora heads from the Bay Area back home to Yucca Valley when her father is killed in a hit and run accident. Her father was very supportive of her musical ambitions, but her mother never has been. She is trapped with her mother and perfect married, dentist, mother of two sister. Political refugees from Morocco, her parents did their best in California, but her mother still regrets the upper class life the academic life they left behind. As Nora learns more about her father, she also meets up with a couple of her high school classmates who are still in town.
“The Other Americans” is ostensibly a mystery about an accident investigation. An elderly man was killed on a poorly lit road, in a hit and run accident. The police believe it was simply an accident, but one of the victim’s daughters believes it was an intentional act because of the historic issues the driver of the vehicle had with her father. Their businesses were adjacent to each other. The driver, someone depicted as angry and rude, perhaps a white supremacist, owned a bowling alley located next to the diner that was owned by the victim, an immigrant from Morocco. The family had experienced racial incidents in the past. The two owners were dealing with many contentious issues, i.e. parking, lighting, etc.
Through the musings of several characters, the widow, the daughters, the police officers and the accused, the readers learn about the abuse that immigrants face in America. They learn about the horrors faced by the soldiers who fought in the Iraq war, and they learn about the fears of the illegal Mexican immigrants, who are afraid to speak to the police when they have witnessed crimes. They learn about the verbal slurs and the bullying that these immigrants, who are the “other” Americans, have to deal with in their daily lives. The readers learn about how these many abuses in business, schools and in social and personal situations alter their behavior and affect their decisions and choices.
Nora is the victim’s daughter. She is sure that her father, Driss, was intentionally run down by the driver of the vehicle in the accident. She is sure he was murdered. She was recently jilted by a married man and is nursing that loss as well as the loss of her parent. Her sister, Salma, is angry that her father’s will left more money to Nora. She has always been the practical daughter who has sacrificed for her family, doing what is expected of her, not what she would like to do. She seeks solace from life’s difficulties with opiates. Her mother, Maryam, is aware that her husband has been unfaithful, before his death, but she chooses to excuse his behavior in order to preserve the memory of their 37 years together.
The person investigating the hit and run is Detective Coleman, a black woman police officer who has had to buck the system and deal with issues of racism throughout her life. She has admirably set an example, with her own behavior, to overcome these injustices. Her son is a loner and her need to help him socialize falls on the deaf ears of her husband who is too busy watching sporting events.
Jeremy, who works with Coleman, served in the Iraq war and has the physical and emotional scars to prove it. His military experience has sometimes affected his judgment and he suffers from insomnia brought on by his war memories. He is a cop and a student, and sometimes, as a cop, he is smug and takes advantage of his power unjustly. He and Nora were in high school together.
The witness of the hit and run, Efrain, is a man with a Mexican background who is afraid to come forward with his evidence. His child goes to school with the grandchildren of the victim. His wife wants him to tell the police what he saw for the reward offered. At first he is afraid to come forward, but she prevails.
The man who was suspected of driving the car in the accident sounds like a white supremacist and a racist for sure. Anderson owns the bowling alley next door to the victim’s diner. He has a son, AJ. His son’s pet business has recently failed forcing him to move in with his parents. AJ also went to school with the victim’s daughter, Nora, and the police officer, Jeremy. As a matter of fact, he bullied both Nora and Jeremy in high school using racist slurs and other insults as he intimidated them.
There isn’t a character in the book without a serious problem of some kind. It feels like there are “eight million stories in this naked desert city” to borrow a phrase from an old television show. Every character has been betrayed in some way by his country, his friends, enemies or lovers. Every character seems to be lonely and unfulfilled. The characters are searching for solutions to their problems and some are more successful than others. Some make choices that are not main stream or healthy.
The several narrators of this audio book do an admirable job of defining the accent and personality of each of the characters. However, there are almost too many characters and issues. Each of the characters seems to place blame on others for their failures without ever considering that they might be the ones making the poor choices.
This book has had very good reviews. I imagine one of the reasons is that it includes every controversial issue of the day: family dynamics, illegal immigration, drug addiction, coping mechanisms, health care, the VA, suicide, anger management and support groups, bullying, equality for women, racism, sexual relationships, romance, infidelity, hints of white supremacy, the Iraq war and its emotional and physical effects on soldiers and their families, police brutality, Islamophobia and more. A reader is hard pressed, today, to find a book today that does not tackle a menu covering some or all of these issues. The only thing that might have been left out in this book is climate change, but since it was set in the desert of California, it might possibly have touched on that too.
It seems in order to get on a “to be read” best seller list, a book must have a progressive agenda if it is to be successful or at least the book must have been written by a woman or a woman with an immigrant background or a person of color or someone with a Muslim or Hispanic heritage. Is this the wave of the future? Many of the books seem to be variations on the same theme making it hard to find one that has been chosen because it is written well and represents good literature instead of one that is a presentation of a political agenda.
I found the book interesting, but slow, as each of the issues covered in the book needed to find its own oxygen, and at times it was tedious. The sex scenes were an unnecessary distraction, as well.
I found this a more accessible read than I had anticipated, and I enjoyed it very much, although some of the strands were left loose, which was unsatisfactory, as the author had gone to the trouble of tying off most of them.
Loved the short chapters and some surprises in the story. Really not as much plot driven as a spotlight on interacting characters. Reads well.
The story and writing started out really interesting, then began to drag about 2/3 of the way through. There were too many threads introduced by the author that got dropped as the story progressed. For example: Nora's character sketched out as a synthesete at the beginning of the book, then that fact was dropped. Efrain and his family also just drop out of the story....did they get a reward, what happened to them after their interaction with the authorities? The ending of the book felt like the author had also lost interest in the story.
She struggles with her grief and the loss of her father. “I wondered whether there would ever be a time when I would be at peace, when my heart would not feel as though lead had been cast inside it.”
Nora is a musician and her music has always been, “a refuge from sorrows and disappointments.”
Nora has always had a troubled relationship with her mother, Maryam. Maryam always makes Nora feel like she isn’t good enough and always tells her to get her head out of the clouds. Maryam is also dealing with loss in her own way. Maryam: “Time passed yet I still found myself reaching for two glasses when I made mint tea in the morning, or looking for my husband’s socks when I folded the laundry, or wanting to hand him to hand me a fresh towel when I stepped out of the shower. These little moments were painful, they reminded me I was no longer his wife, that I was his widow now, a state of being I was still trying to accept.”
Nora soon reunites with a friend from high school named Jeremy. Jeremy is an Iraq war veteran and while he becomes a shoulder for Nora to lean on, she also helps him deal with his suppressed memories from the war.
There are other characters in the book as well. All the characters are, “deeply divided by race, religion, and class.” They each tell their stories from their own point of view. One such character is Efrain. Efrain witnessed the accident, but fled from the scene of the crime. He felt the cost of going to the police was too high because he was scared he would be deported and separated from his family. The guilt weighs heavily on him and he is haunted by dreams of the man he saw die.
The Mojave is always present in the background of the novel, the sun and wind impossible to escape.
“The desert was home, however much I had tried to run away from it. Home was wide-open spaces, pristine light, silence that wasn’t quite silence. Home, above all, was the family who loved me. Only now, after my father’s death, did I come to understand that love was not a tame or passive creature, but a rebellious beast, messy and unpredictable, capacious and forgiving, and that it would deliver me from my grief and carry me out of the darkness.”
“Memory is an unreliable visitor.”
“The present could never be untethered from the past, you couldn’t understand one without the other.”