The Other Americans
Laila Lalami (Bloomsbury Circus, £16.99)

In a cabin owned by her family in a small town near Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert, Nora Guerraoui is poring over her laptop. An unsuccessful jazz composer from a Moroccan immigrant family, Nora is thinking back to a market in Marrakesh where she saw a troupe of young acrobats jumping, cartwheeling and backflipping with an agility she had never seen before. “Each boy performed alone, yet in community with the others. It was that moment I was trying to capture in music, years later.”

Laila Lalami pulls off something very similar here, building up a picture of a small-town American community in the post-9/11 era through a succession of point of view chapters from some of its inhabitants, chiefly Nora herself. She has returned to the town she put so much effort into escaping for the funeral of her father, Driss, killed in a hit-and-run outside the doughnut store and diner he owned, and to which he had devoted most of his adult life.

Even without the tragic circumstances, it would have been a difficult reunion. Nora’s prickly mother makes no secret of preferring her sister, Salma, who went through dental school, established a successful practice, got married and presented her with adorable grandchildren. Nora’s decision to take her chances in the precarious world of music composition was a disappointment that verged on disgrace. As an investigation is launched into whether Driss Guerraoui’s death was homicide or an accident, the family’s attempts to form a united front collapse under the weight of long-held grievances, and some new ones.

Lalami widens her scope to encompass other people living in the town and connected, in one way or another, to the Guerraouis. These include Jeremy, an unlikely Iraq veteran who is also musically gifted but chose a very different path from Nora; Erica, the black female detective who is assigned to the case and who also knows how it feels to be frozen out of a community; and Efraín, the sole witness to Driss’s death, who is afraid to come forward in case it jeopardises his immigration status.

What should bind them together is the toil, tears and sweat of surviving in the land of opportunity, the pressure to get ahead and the sacrifices required to do so. But racial politics alienate them from each other and, more often than not, the land in which they live. Even while finding solace in Jeremy’s arms, Nora can’t escape what he, a veteran of the Iraq war, represents, while Jeremy sees himself through the eyes of an American Muslim for the first time, just as Nora has always been forced to see herself through the eyes of white America.

A strong successor to her Pulitzer-nominated The Moor’s Account, The Other Americans is a study of race in the wake of the War on Terror intertwined deftly with a love story and the dissection of a family dynamic, in which every character, like the young Moroccan acrobats, contributes an essential part of the whole.