Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami

Drawing from her own experiences as a Moroccan immigrant living in the States, in Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America Laila Lalami presents us with an impassioned and thoughtful social commentary. With piercing clarity, she touches upon Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, and sexism. She reflects on the many flaws and conditions of citizenship, specifically American citizenship, and on the many ways, it fails people. I truly appreciated the way she discusses topical and oh so important social issues, and the lucidity of her arguments: from discussing the way citizenship is equated with whiteness, white privilege and white fragility, racial profiling, borders, racist rhetorics and the vilification of immigrants, inhumane legislations, the notion of ‘assimilation’, belonging, etc. Throughout this collection of essays, Lalami raises many thought-provoking points and makes many illuminating observations. While Lalami does discuss other people’s experiences, often providing statistics or citing specific incidents/events, her own personal experiences inform much of her writing, which makes it all the more affecting. I admired the way she would attempt to relate to the kind of people I personally would write off as c*nts while also fully acknowledging how frustrating a position she is often made to be in (that of educating bigoted people).
While she does write about subjects that are ‘American’ specific, such as applying for citizenship in America, the issues underlying her essays should not concern exclusively an American readership. Although I did gain insight into processes I am not familiar with, throughout this collection Lalami delves into topics that will undoubtedly resonate with many readers outside of the States.

My only quibble is that some of her essays could have integrated a more intersectional approach. For instance, while Lalami does include ‘asides’ discussing gender inequality and #metoo, she barely acknowledges lgbtq+ related issues.
Curiously enough this is another case where I find myself liking the non-fictional work of an author whose fiction I low-key did not get on with…I would definitely recommend this one and I am determined to read (and hopefully like) Lalami’s The Moor’s Account.

my rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang

Studying so much had its consequences. It caused me to wonder, for instance, if I might be a genius.

Bursting with wry humor and insight Joan Is Okay makes for a quick and quirky read about a woman who doesn’t want to change to fit in with society’s standards.

In spite of what the people around her may think, Joan is okay…isn’t she? On paper Joan has achieved the American Dream, hasn’t she? She’s in her thirties and works as an ICU doctor at a New York City hospital, a job she finds deeply full-filling. Joan’s hard work ethic has earned her respect at the hospital and she’s even due a pay rise. When Joan’s father dies, she flies to China to attend his funeral but, unlike her older brother who stays for a longer visit, she immediately returns back to New York. Her colleagues seem puzzled by her refusal to take time off. Her now widowed mother is staying for a while with Joan’s brother and his family. They keep insisting that Joan should be around more. Her brother, who leads a fairly extravagant lifestyle, nags her about moving away from New York and opening her own practice where he lives. But Joan doesn’t seem to care about money, not in the way her brother does. She also shows no interest in finding a partner or starting a family. She’s content dedicating herself to her work and doesn’t seem to understand why other people may find her choices so baffling. As the narrative progresses Joan begins to feel overwhelmed by others. Her workplace forces her to take her time off to ‘grieve’, one of her colleagues is resentful of her raise and paints himself as somehow having been wrong by the hospital, and her new neighbour keeps encroaching on her private space, inviting himself over and offloading her with things he no longer wants. Then, towards the latter half of the novel, Joan is further troubled by the news of a virus…(you guessed it…covid cameo).

Joan’s idiosyncratic narration is certainly amusing and engaging. She finds social interactions difficult and often takes what other people say too literally. Because she keeps to herself others see her as standoffish and weird. Her approach to her work and the way she process/understand/see the the world around her brought to mind Keiko from Convenience Store Woman and Molly from The Maid. As with those characters, it could be argued that the reason why people view Joan as ‘different’ is that she’s neuroatypical. Yet, no one alludes to this possibility, even if Joan consistently exhibits neurodivergent traits…I understand that women and racial minorities ‘slip’ under the radar when it comes to being diagnosed (and are often misdiagnosed) but given Joan’s profession and the country she lives in…I would have excepted someone to mention this or keep this in mind rather than make Joan feel like an ‘alien’ because she doesn’t react or express herself in a neurotypical way. Anyway, aside from that Wang certainly brings to life the character of Joan. Her interior monologue is characterized by a dry yet witty tone. Joan’s acts of introspection are punctuated by sillier asides having to do with sitcoms and social niceties. When coming across other people she does have the habit of listing their height and weight which rubbed me the wrong way. No one can just look at someone and know their exact height, let alone their weight. It also seemed like an added ‘quirk’ that is a bit stereotypical (of a character who is heavily implied to be neuroatypical and is into a medical/science related field).
We also gain insight into her everyday life working at the ICU. Her father’s death and her mother’s temporary move into Fang’s house makes her reflect on their experiences in America, the linguistic and cultural barriers they faced. Joan also considers how her experiences differ from her brother’s ones; unlike her, Fang was born in China and while their parents moved to America he was left in the care of some relatives. Does he resent Joan because of this? Is his fixation with wealth and status an attempt to prove himself?

Wang is able to articulate complex and often hard to pin down feelings and thoughts. I also appreciated that there were instances where the author was able to point to what state of mind Joan was in without being explicit about it. We can see that Joan is numb without her telling us. Her deflection and minimisation of her own grief were also very convincing and felt consistent with her character.
There are moments where Joan is interacting with her superior, her colleague, or her neighbour, that really convey how uncomfortable she is. Often nothing overtly ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ has been said but their tones or line of questioning feels invasive or somewhat condescending. Wang also captures the realities of working in a predominantly male workplace. I was reminded of Severance, Edge Case, Days of Distraction, which also explore the experiences of young(ish) Asian American women who have jobs in typically white & male spaces. Wang emphasizes how often (supposedly) ‘well-meaning’ liberals such as her neighbour succeed only in making one feel even more ‘other’. The realism of Joan’s everyday life and inner monologue are contrasted with moments and scenes that verge on the absurd. Some of the secondary characters (such as this random girl who introduces herself as a ‘post-millennial’) came across as cartoonish, and their presence in Joan’s story felt jarring almost.
As the narrative progresses my interest waned. There was a lot of repetition, and some of the situations Joan ends up in felt a bit…trying too hard to be quirky? Kind of a la Fleabag. The inclusion of covid also affected my reading experience. It just stresses me out reading about the pandemic given that we are still in it and no, I don’t care to ‘relive’ those first few months back in 2020. I would have liked fewer scenes with the neighbour or random characters and more page time spent on Joan and her mom, or Joan and her brother. Still, I did find her point of view insightful, particularly when she considers how growing up as the daughter of Chinese immigrants has shaped her and her sense of self. I did find it slightly implausible that she was unfamiliar with so many American things, given that she was born and lived her whole life there…but I guess if you are a truly introverted or asocial person you would have less exposure to popular culture. Still, I could definitely relate to feeling lost or a step behind as there are instances where my English friends and or colleagues say things or refer to things I just don’t ‘get’.

While reading this I was reminded of Mieko Kawakami’s All the Lovers in the Night. Both novels focus on women in their 30s who lead rather solitary lives. They do not seem interested in pursuing romantic relationships nor do they care about ‘moulding’ themselves into their respective society’s ideal of a woman (who is often a wife & mother). I appreciated that story-wise Joan is Okay doesn’t follow a conventional route, which would have ended with Joan ‘finding’ someone or ‘changing’ because of love. Still, I did find the finale kind of anticlimactic. And again, by then, covid had kind of stolen the scene so I’d lost interest somewhat. If you liked Wang’s Chemistry and you can cope with ‘covid books’ I would definitely recommend you check out Joan Is Okay.

my rating: ★ ★ ★ ¼ stars

picture from the new york times.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

“My American adolescence was filled with tales of woe like this, all of them proof of what my mother said, that we did not belong here. In a country where possessions counted for everything, we had no belongings except our stories.”

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen is a collection of short stories centring on the experiences of Vietnamese refugees & immigrants as well as Vietnamese-Americans. With one or two exceptions most of the stories in this collection take place in America, some soon after the Vietnam War. Through different voices, the author presents us with a nuanced depiction of the realities and difficulties faced by those who are either forced to or choose to leave their home country. In America they are confronted with prejudice and racism, treated as objects of fascination or pity, at times they are separated from their loved ones or find themselves growing apart from their families as well as the language and values of their early childhoods. I appreciated the author’s frank style, the humor that permeated much of his narratives, and his nonmoral approach to his characters, their struggles, fears, and desires. The stories that resonated the most with me happened to be the very first two in the collection: ‘Black-Eyed Women’, which is about a haunted ghostwriter, and ‘The Other Man’, which is set in San Francisco and follows Liem, a young refugee who staying with a gay couple. Many of these stories emphasize the linguistic and cultural barriers experienced by immigrants. Most of these stories, such as ‘I’d Love You To Want Me’, a story about an ageing couple, make for rather bittersweet reads.

Like many collections of short stories, The Refugees was a bit of a mixed bag. None of the stories was bad but a few stood out. Something that dampened my reading experience was the weird way the author would write about breasts: we have “doleful areolas”, breasts that “sway like anemones under shallow water”, and breasts that “undulate” like “the heads of eels”. Like, what gives Nguyen? Why be so weird about breasts? I guess they were meant to be humorous but I happen not to have the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy so, they didn’t quite do it for me. Also, it would be fairer than to have weird metaphors about other body parts.
All in all, this was a fairly solid collection and I look forward to finally giving Nguyen’s Pulitzer-winning novel a go.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Written in a direct yet luminous prose, Behold the Dreamers chronicles the trials, and occasional joys, of a Cameroonian couple in New York. The Jongas move to America to improve their circumstances. In pursuit of the elusive American Dream Jende secures a position as chauffeur to a Wall Street senior executive while his wife Neni is studying to become a pharmacist. Neni eventually also begins to work for Jende’s employer, working under Clark’s wife, Cindy.
Imbolo Mbue brilliantly evokes time (2008-2009) and place (New York). She captures, in particular, the apprehensive atmosphere pre and after the crash, the hope brought by Obama’s presidency, as well as showcasing the realities and ramifications of racial and class disparities in America.
Although there are a multitude of characters, the Jongas remain at the heart of this novel. Mbue captures their experiences in America with precision and empathy. From the Jongas’ attempt to assimilate to this other culture and to understand how they fit in this new society, to their many hardships. The threats of deportation and unemployment become constants in their lives, and the Jongas will try their hardest to keep these at bay.
I appreciated how imperfect Mbue’s characters were. Jende and Neni make bad choices or behave selfishly. Yet, given their precarious positions, readers will have a hard time condemning them. The Edwards’ too, for all their privilege as a white and wealthy American couple, are given depth. Although we see them only through the eyes of Jende and Neni, we are given an impression of what kind of people they are, for better or worse. The juxtaposition between the Jongas’ and Edwards’ lifestyles is a stark one, yet Mbue does not paint either couple as good or bad.
Mbue provides a rich commentary on class, immigration, race, American society, consumerism, and, of course, the American Dream. The characters populating this novel are compelling, if not always likeable. The sorrow and suffering the Jongas’ experience are somewhat alleviated by the author’s subtle irony or by the humour provided by their closest friends.

If I had to rate the first half of this novel I probably would have given it a strong 4 stars, however, certain events in the latter half lessened my overall appreciation. I had a hard time glossing over Jende’s behaviour, and, if I had to be completely honest, his actions seemed a bit out of character. The subtlety that had made the first part so poignant is also lost, and I found myself growing frustrated by the characters’ arcs. I also would have liked to see more of the Jongas’ relationship with their parents (they are only alluded to now and then).

Still, I loved the author’s prose and her piercing observations (on love, ambition, family, survival). Mbue is a clearly talented writer and I look forward to reading more by her.

my rating: ★★★½

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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

“What was it about this country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy?”

Infinite Country shares much in common with two of other novels by Patricia Engel, The Veins of the Ocean and Vida. While I do enjoy certain aspects of her storytelling—which at times reminds me of authors such as Alice Hoffman and Isabel Allende—I do think that her work is much too heavy on the telling. As with The Veins of the Ocean, this latest novel is very light on dialogues and mostly relies on recounting the various histories of various characters. Still, interspersed in their experiences are some lovely descriptions and observations. I particularly liked the role that myths play in the narrative.

“When the world was new, the creatures that ruled were the jaguar, the snake, and the condor.”

I loved the first chapter, which mostly focused on Talia, the youngest child of Elena and Mauro. Although she was born in America she was raised by her father and maternal grandmother in Bogotá. After an act of violence she is sent to a correctional facility run by nuns in the mountains of Colombia. Talia, however, is determined to leave as she has a flight to the U.S. to catch. As Talia journeys across Colombia, hitching rides here and there, readers learn of her parents first meeting and subsequent relationship. The two lived for awhile with Elena’s mother but after the birth of their first daughter they relocate to America. After they ‘overstay’ their tourist visa they are forced to accept unfair wages and live in precarious places. Throughout their relationship Mauro struggles with alcoholism and depression, which drives them apart.

“Emigration was a peeling away of the skin. An undoing. You wake each morning and forget where you are, who you are, and when the world outside shows you your reflection, it’s ugly and distorted; you’ve become a scorned, unwanted creature.”

Similarly to The Veins of the Ocean and Vida this novel shows the hard choices immigrant parents have to make: to live in a country which deems them ‘alien’ and in perpetual fear of being deported, or to return to their home country, knowing that there they will face a different struggle.
In the last section of the novel the narrative includes chapters from the first point of view (until then the novel was told through a 3rd pov), specifically those of Talia’s American-based siblings. These chapters did not add a lot to the narrative, and they didn’t make these characters as fleshed out as Talia. Although Elena and Mauro’s relationship and struggles are certainly poignant, that their stories were being ‘recounted’ in a rather passive way distanced me from them. The switch to a 1st person narration was somewhat jarring, and I did not care for the clichéd address to the reader (on the lines of: “You already know me. I’m the author of these pages”).
The storyline would have benefited from focusing more on Talia. Although at first it seems to be hinted that she will play a big role in the story, she is pushed to the sidelines.
While I appreciated the message of this novel, I was not as taken by its execution. If you enjoyed Crooked Hallelujah or you happen to have loved Engel’s previous work, you should definitely consider picking this one up.

“Leaving is a kind of death. You may find yourself with much less than you had before.”

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — book review

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“It is invariably saddening to look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has its entertaining moments. The narrative seems intent on evoking a certain atmosphere. The people populating this novel meet up over drinks or dinner, where they divert themselves in idle gossip and caustically discuss current state of affairs. In spite of their facetious pretences they eagerly attend Gatsby’s opulent parties, indulging in the various decadences offered by their host, all the while talking maliciously behind his back. Fitzgerald paints an unforgiving portrait of the upper crust; they are hollow, duplicitous, and self-absorbed. In spite of Gatsby’s various attempts it is made quite clear that the ‘old’ money will never accept the new money.
The narrator of the novel is unremarkable and rather unforgettable. This may be because Fitzgerald wanted to show the drama that is at the heart of this novel from an outsider’s point of view. Yet, Nick only witnesses a fraction Gatsby and because of this I never had a clear sense of Gatsby himself. Nick doesn’t seem to like him or hate him. The other characters seem caricatures of sorts and their actions never struck me as particularly believable (which is a shame since I did find Fitzgerald’s dialogues to ring true to life).
While I appreciate the mood Fitzgerald was trying to create, and I was amused by his flair for bombastic descriptions, I wasn’t particular interested in his characters and their various disagreements. Most of all…I was disappointed by Gatsby. The novel may be named after him but he never seems to come into focus, so that he remained a blurry impression of a character.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

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The Affairs of the Falcóns : Book Review

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The Affairs of the Falcóns: A Novel
by Melissa Rivero
★★★✰✰ 3 stars

This novel was unrelentingly depressing. There might have been two instances which didn’t make me feel anxious or sad.
The dialogues are the best thing about The Affairs of the Falcóns. Rivero has an ear for the way in which people speak, for rendering with terrifying realism those fraught and tense pauses that fill an argument or a conversation, and for depicting the hesitancy that might make its way into one’s words.
On the other hand, I found Rivero’s prose and her characters to be incredibly flat. I find this particular writing style very hit or miss: the narration merely describes the actions and movements of a character without fleshing out his or her personality. If I was distressed by Ana Falcón’s situation it was not because I really cared or believed in Ana as a character but because I am not completely heartless. Ana seems to lack a personality, she experiences hardship after hardship, and yet, we never get to see her inner self, or the way in which the strain she is under affects her mental health and thinking. For instance, I knew that Ana was angry not because the narration shows us why and how she is angry but because we are told that she smacks the sofa she is sitting on. The narrative style was too passive and unattached for my taste (hopefully other readers won’t be as bothered by this).
The characters themselves were many shades of selfish. Certainly, I did not think that Ana should get along with her husband or with his family but why should her friendship be so very…unfriendly?
The women in this novel are constantly accusing each other of behaving ‘improperly’ with each other’s husbands, they are judgemental about each other, and they seem to be anything but ‘friends’. There were two moments (both of which occur in a mere sentence) that showed that Ana’s friends did seem to care for her.
Still, even if I found the prose to be as attractive as my shopping list, I do think that the dialogues were incredibly realistic. Sadly, the characters behind these conversations and arguments were not as fleshed out as the words they spoke. All of the characters share not only the same ‘mood’ but the same sort of underwhelming personality.
Soon I found that the various scenes sort of followed a similar formula: we have Ana entering a house or building, she has a confrontation of some sort with one character, one of them leaves the room. Characters kept telling Ana off for something or other, and she is unable to make a valid argument in self-defence. The ending tries—and fails—to give readers a glimmer of hope in an abyss of despair.

I listened to this novel with a growing sense of dread, in a perpetual state of anxiety, and frustrated beyond belief over the way the characters were portrayed and the very way the story was told.
Part of me wishes that I had read (or listened) to this novel, not because this story is not important (and it has a lot of frighteningly realistic situations) but because it is told in such an unaffected, almost uncaring, way.

Image from: https://www.heyalma.com/almas-favorite-books-for-spring-2019/

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The Other Americans : Book Review

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The Other Americans
by Laila Lalami
★★✰✰✰ 2.5 stars (rounded down)

I’m really disappointed by this book. It tells a predictable and unevenly paced story which focuses on flat stereotypes whose different point of views merge into one indistinguishable passive voice.
Not a bad novel but…far from good.
If you haven’t read novels similar to this one you might be able to look past its cliches and its poorly orchestrated narrative.

NARRATION
Initially I thought that this book was doing something similar to Everything Here Is Beautiful where chapters alternated between ‘connected’ characters (in that case they were all close to the same person) but here we get chapters from the victim (in one chapter he is young, another one takes place weeks before his death), his wife, Maryam, (again, there is one from her early days in America and then the other ones take place in the present), his younger daughter, Nora, and his older daughter, (who gets 1 single chapter in 2nd perspective, and yes, that was awful), as well as people outside of the family.
All of these other characters added little to the narrative. If anything they showed Lalami’s writing weaknesses since they are all told in the same way. They are meant to make us see how different these characters are from each other, but really, they just provide us with a quick and unsubtle info-dump of their lives until now (a whole history dumbed down and rammed with a paragraph or two) and had no impact (emotional or otherwise) to the main story. In fact, they water down what could have been a poignant story of a fraught family history. If I were to cut half of these chapters, the story wouldn’t suffer one bit.
These ‘extra’ character all used the same language and thought patterns.
There were these painful attempts to make us see through the eyes of Anderson, an elderly man (and we can tell his age only because he sees a woman and thinks ‘little lady’), A.J., the son of this man, Efraín, the man who witnessed the hit and run, Coleman, the detective who is investigating it, and Jeremy, an Iraqi War veteran…seeing through their perspective added 0 layers to their characters. Not having their point of view wouldn’t alter the way we perceive them, quite the opposite instead. I would have found them more believable without reading from their povs.
I often forgot who was narrating the story because they sounded so much alike one another. Which isn’t great given that they should have very little in common. It was only if they actually stated their political views or profession on the page that I would know whose point of view I was reading from.
The story tries hard to be this tapestry of different accounts and perspectives but ends up being a poorly written monologue which wasn’t sure wherever it should sound like a series of ‘confessions’ (which I personally think would have worked) in which each character gives their view on the victim and or his family or if they were just random snippets of different types of people. Maybe if it had been all written from the third point of view it would have worked, and I wouldn’t have found their voices so jarringly similar.
At times it seemed that these extra characters were merely there to offer a bigger picture of Driss’s death, that they would only talk about things relating to him and or the events after his hit and run but that wasn’t always clear. We were given all this information about these characters which suggested that their chapters would add something to the overall narrative…but that wasn’t the case either. They are quite clearly ‘not the focus’ and yet so many pages are wasted on them. Their chapters don’t add anything to the story or to their characters. It didn’t make us understand them more or any such thing.
There was also this tendency to describe a scene from different point of views (first we would see it from Nora, then Jeremy, then Coleman) which was used like some sort of cheap ‘party trick’. Maybe it would have worked if these characters didn’t sound so much like the same person.
In order to move their narrative from the info dumping to the ‘now’, the characters use ‘anyways’ and ‘of course’ which got repetitive, fast. Surely there is a less obvious way to move the story along than saying ‘anyways’?
The narrative seems to be wavering, not knowing what it’s trying to be, trying—and failing—to capture a certain time, place or community. There were occasional phrases that stood out (in a good way) especially at the start of the novel but these were far too few.

STORY
The story takes itself too seriously, and by trying to tackle too many different themes and issues, it ends up spreading itself way way way too thin. If you are looking for a superficial and stereotypical portrayal of xenophobia, ptsd, racism, sexism, look no further.
I was hoping to read an engaging and thought-provoking story of a grief, loneliness, and estrangement (from one’s country or one’s parents). Where is the feeling of dislocation? The oppressing sense of being viewed as ‘other’? These things were barely there. Guilt, fear and anxiety are depicted in such a one-dimensional way.
This novel isn’t a family saga or a mystery….it tries to be topical but in such a blatant and contrived manner that I found myself laughing out loud or rolling my eyes at moments that should have had some emotional impact.
There is this detective who is there just to show us readers what it means to be a woman. When someone tells her that she did a good job on a case she is about to close, she replies by saying:

“Stroke of luck,” I said, and immediately regretted the modesty in my voice. Humility had been drilled in me, as it was in most of the women I knew, and I found it hard to get rid of it, even though it was frequently mistaken for inability.”

What kind of person would immediately view their own response as ‘patriarchy’s fault’? There were many other instances which sounded like they belong on twitter.
The story…it tries. I will give it that. But it is also >so inconsistent. The pacing is all over the place, the switching from past to present is muddled, and it just seems not to know where it’s headed.
At the start Nora says that at a teacher made her realise that she has Synesthesia:

“She gave a name to how I saw the world. Synesthesia. And with that word came the realization that there was nothing wrong with me, that I shared this way of experiencing sound with many others, some of them musicians.”

Is this touched upon again? No.
Does Nora seems to view her surroundings differently from the other characters? No.
Why then throw the word ‘synesthesia’ in the mix? It is an actual condition not something that you should mention once in order to establish that your character is different.
The characters seem unable to make any valid argument or intelligible statement but behave like sketches of inane people.
There is one scene in which Nora discovers that Jeremy served in Iraq and is repulsed by this. The two part on unfriendly terms, and one would think that Jeremy would try to get Nora to see why he felt that he had to join (he wanted to get away from his alcoholic father, his prospect-less future) but no. That is the type of conversation two adults would have. These two don’t say anything to one another until Nora suddenly decides that…she doesn’t mind? I don’t even know! Her initial reaction is so strong that she is unable to look at him…and the day after she is just okay with it? She doesn’t articulate why she is able to overcome her initial reaction. Later on she has the cheesy realisation that: ‘he has blood on his hands’.
aaaaaaargh

CHARACTERS
These characters do not sound, behave, or think like real people. They are posterboys for certain issues or personalities.
We have Nora, the classic ‘I’m different’, ‘I’m not like other people’, ‘I’m the black sheep of the family’, ‘I’m creative’, who is immensely dislikable in spite of the many attempts to make her into some sort of just and compassionate person. Her sister, whose life is predictably ‘not as perfect as it seems’ (her chapter was cringe-worthy and seems like some sort creative writing assignment). Their mother…she makes these obvious comments such as ‘I wish my daughters stopped fighting with one another’ and ‘these Americans’.
The extras are just as flat. We have the bad guy, a white racists, xenophobic, sexist, rude, who feels no guilt or remorse whatsoever, and Lalami tries to give us his ‘side’ of the story through laughable statements like: “Do you know what it does to a boy when a girl laughs at him? ”
Jeremy was awful. He was just there to be Nora’s love interest. We get a quick info-dump in which he tells us about his alcoholic dad and that he used to be made fun for being fat. And then his chapters are centred on his obsession with Nora. She is the girl for him. She is not like other women. You see, while he could brag about sleeping with other women, he could never speak like that of Nora. Nora was nice to him (once) years before.And Nora makes him realise that using offensive terms like ‘raghead’ isn’t nice. So…it must be love?
I could go on and on about how stereotypical these characters are. I read a review that said that you can tell exactly what has happened and what will happen to each character within the first few chapters and I agree 100%.
At times it seemed that Lalami forgot about her own characters…why add them to the mix to begin with?

OVERALL
If I were you I would skip reading this and read Elif Shafak’s The Saint of Incipient Insanities.

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