By David Canfield
Late on a spring night in the Mojave’s Yucca Valley, Driss Guerraoui is killed in a brutal hit-and-run. We meet the man as a helpless victim, but over the course of The Other Americans, he emerges with complexity: a loving grandfather, a flawed husband, a diner operator, a philosophy scholar, a native of Morocco. His death sets into motion a reckoning over 9/11’s long shadow for Muslim Americans, and the treacherous place immigrants occupy in the current climate.
Driss’ daughter Nora returns to the desert from the Bay Area, where she works as a struggling jazz musician, and quickly falls back into a tense rhythm with her disapproving mother, Maryam, and her older sister, Salma. She’s certain her father was murdered: “To believe that my father’s death was just an unfortunate accident meant that I would have to forget everything else I knew about my hometown.” Insults like “Taliban” and “raghead” defaced Nora’s locker when she was a child, haunting her through hallways; shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the doughnut shop her parents bought after first settling in the U.S. was burned to the ground — violence that torched her family’s American dream.