The Other Americans by Laila Lalami. Nora Guerraoui returns to her small home town in the Mojave of California when her father is killed by a hit and run driver. While she is dealing with his death she begins to look into her past and examine her own life. “I had never been enough. I had always been found wanting. “
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.”