Laila Lalami: ‘Whoever tells the story controls the world’

6:44 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments

aila Lalami is never in a hurry to finish writing a book. A disciplined author, she spends months, sometimes years, developing carefully crafted narratives and finding joy in the company of the characters occupying her imagination.

She has won many awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. But instead of enjoying the prestige, she just works harder in the solitude of her Southern California office, writing fiction and non-fiction alike.

Much of the latter sheds light on her adopted country’s struggles with Islamophobia and racism – including attitudes toward another Muslim woman in America, the congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
Some days ago, Lalami was in Omar's home state, Minnesota, talking to a literary-minded audience in Minneapolis at the Wordplay book festival.

Inside the Guthrie Theater, on the banks of the Mississippi River, she talked about the work that went into producing her latest novel, The Other Americans, a captivating murder mystery centred around a family of Moroccan immigrants.

Sharing the stage in Minneapolis with recent Pulitzer Prize nominee Tommy Orange, the Moroccan-American novelist read from her novel.

“When we moved to America 35 years ago, many things took me by surprise, like gun shops next to barbershops, freeways that tangled like yarn, people who knocked on your door to talk about Jesus, 20 different kinds of milk at the grocery store, signs that say don’t even think about parking here.”
In America, Lalami is one of the best-known and most-acclaimed North African authors of her generation. Her essays regularly appear in major publications and she is the author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2005) and Secret Son (2009).

In 2014, she drew much praise for The Moor’s Account, a fictional memoir of a Moroccan slave and the first black explorer of America. The book won several awards and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2015.

A journey home

Incidentally, just as she finished the book and took a much needed break in the western state of Wyoming, her father fell ill in Morocco. She experienced what many immigrants go through, having to find a seat on a plane and scrambling to arrive before it was too late.
Her father recovered, but she went back to California with a fear she couldn’t shake – the fear of losing a parent, the fear of being too far away and helpless. So she used the experience, embedding all her complex and uncomfortable feelings into her fourth novel, The Other Americans.

Read the rest of the story here.

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