cover image Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America

Laila Lalami. Pantheon, $25.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4716-9

In this eloquent and troubling account, novelist and National Book Award–finalist Lalami (The Other Americans) draws on her personal history as “an immigrant, a woman, an Arab, and a Muslim” to argue that becoming a U.S. citizen does not necessarily mean becoming “an equal member of the American family.” Recalling that the first time a U.S. customs agent examined her American passport, he wanted to know how many camels her husband had to trade in for her, Lalami critically assesses political rhetoric from 9/11 through President Trump’s border wall; skillfully unpacks charged words such as “allegiance” and “assimilation”; reflects on Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh through the lens of her own experience calling out workplace sexual harassment; and examines the erasure of Muslims from American history. “Conditional citizenship,” she writes, “is characterized by the burden of having to educate white Americans about all the ways in which one is different from them.” Lalami offers essential insights into how racism and sexism function in American society, and makes a persuasive case for preserving the “gray zones” between religious, ethnic, and national identities as a way to push back against tribalism and sectarianism. This profound inquiry into the American immigrant experience deserves to be widely read. (May)