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Five Questions to Laila Lalami, Moroccan-US Author Who Made a Name for Herself in the US

PubliƩ le Mardi 13 Juillet 2021 | MAP

Rabat - With five novels to her credit and a sixth on the way, Moroccan-American writer Laila Lalami has made a name for herself in the literary landscape of the United States, a country she has called home for almost three decades.

Approached by MAP on the occasion of a literary meeting in Rabat, the novelist gave an overview of her penultimate novel "The other Americans", a work of fiction carrying out an X-Ray analysis of the different strata of US society with a special focus on "immigrant communities."

Widely acclaimed by critics as one of the "Most Anticipated Books of 2019," "The Other Americans" is a suspenseful thriller that tells the story of Driss, a Moroccan immigrant living in California, who is killed in a hit-and-run.

This native of Rabat, who has a brilliant command of the English language, has produced best-sellers almost entirely devoted to the themes of exile and migration, in which the marginal character occupies a central place.

Today you present "The Other Americans" to your Moroccan readers, a novel translated into French by Les Editions Bourgois and reissued by Le Fennec Editions in 2020. Any details?

In addition to English, "The Other Americans" has been published in French and in Arabic. The book was released in the United States in March 2019 and was a finalist for the "National Book Awards". It is a novel that begins with the accidental death of a Moroccan immigrant to the United States. The question arises whether it was a premeditated accident, a murder or simply a traffic accident. The story is told through nine different characters. It is a choral novel in which we hear the voice of the immigrant himself, his wife, his daughters, a neighbor and others. It is a way of telling a story and the story of a community. It is a novel that questions identity, whether national, community, religious or class-related.

How do you identify yourself as a writer?

I think that it is rather a question for the critics. 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.

From "Hope and Other Dangerous Quests" to "Conditional Citizens", your latest work, what is the unifying factor?

I feel that all my works put Moroccans at the center 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.

Do you have any book projects in progress?

Yes, I am working on a nonfiction novel. All I can tell you is that it's a dystopia that looks into the future, into what will happen in the next few years...

What are your literary sources of inspiration?

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.

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