The Nitty Gritty: The Other Americans

*African Category 2021 Bookish Reading Challenge

This one was a National Book Award Finalist. And I get that. It’s an important book about immigration, home, and othering. And the writing is spot on. Literally, only one sentence was written in such a way as to pull me out of the narrative. An impressive feat.

The story begins with a death in the family. Which means that grief and the ways humans navigate the harsh, unforgiving landscape of loss stays in forefront in the narrative. Death often leaves lots of unanswered questions. And that’s true in The Other Americans. Bits and pieces of the story of a life unfold from multiple perspectives–which adds insight and complexity. It isn’t that there’s technically a lot happening in the narrative. Not externally at least. But the interiority of the characters is messy, complicated, and emotionally-fraught.

The author creates an aura of internet unknowability around the characters. You see fragments of who they are. And sometimes their realizations about their own lives and the lives of those that orbit in their sphere (and who they often love) are profound enough to make you stop and re-read a paragraph to soak it all in. But I missed the quirks and nuances that make you fall in love with characters.

I felt held at arms length during the narrative.

Which I’m beginning to believe is a frequently used device in narratives where the characters are made to constantly feel “othered” (either because they are immigrants, because of their religion, race, or ethnicity, or because they’ve been in active combat).

By the end of the book, there were some loose ends that I really wanted closure on. But, like in death, there isn’t always closure. Sometimes there’s just acceptance. And I’m willing to accept that it’s a really important book that explores a LOT of facets of life in American and that is a pretty solid, unblinking look at the ways humans respond to life–in both beautiful and broken ways.