Chronicle Of A Death:
Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans is written with an understated sense of the dramatic—a sudden death and the impact on people around, opens up like one of those toys that has a many boxes within a box at the heart of which is a mystery.
The man who died carried with him many stories, and Lalami delicately untangles those knots of connections and lost histories. The novel is told through multiple voices, but the point of view is mainly that of Nora, the younger daughter of the dead man, whose life actually changes drastically when she gets the news of her father being killed in a hit-and-run incident, very close to the restaurant he ran in a California town. The sudden and senseless death of Driss Guerraoui shocks Nora, who wants the culprit to be punished.
Erica Coleman, the police detective investigating the killing has just arrived in the town, and is up against the pressure and near impossibility of solving the crime without any witnesses. She also has family problems of own that include a sullen stepson. There is a witness, however, Efraín Aceves, who is afraid of being caught by immigration officials if he calls the cops, though his conscience and his wife nag him relentlessly.
Nora, a musician, abandons her work (unsatisfactory) and relationship (dead end) and returns home to her mother Maryam, only to be reminded of why she escaped—the constant disapproval of her lifestyle, the comparison with her successful and wealthy married sister.
Nora’s former classmate, Jeremy Gorecki, always in love with her, reappears just when she needs support. He is an Iraq veteran, who ended up a cop after his own personal tragedy. His Marine buddy Fierro, is also around, unable to cope with the trauma of the time at the battlefield. Anderson Baker, who runs a bowling alley next to Guerraoui’s restaurant and has a grudge against the Moroccan immigrant, and his spoilt son AJ get their say.
The Guerraouis had had to leave the political violence of their troubled country to make a new life in America; then 9/11 happens, and the hostility against Muslim immigrants is no longer sheathed. As Coleman investigates, pushed by a very persistent Nora, it turns out that the accident could be murder and racism that was simmering under, rises to the surface.
The Other Americans about grief, loss, recovery, is a skillful balancing of romance, family secrets, police procedural and social commentary—one of the best books of the year, so far.
The Other Americans
By Laila Lalami