Leaving Tangier

October 2nd, 2015


My review of Mathias Énard’s novel Street of Thieves appeared in The Guardian last week. Here’s how it opens:

Tangier, Mathias Énard writes in Street of Thieves, is famous “chiefly for the people who leave it”. Take, for example, the explorer Ibn Battutah. He left Tangier in 1325 and travelled through much of Africa, the Middle East, eastern Europe and Asia. When he finally returned home, 30 years later, he wrote Rihla, an account of his adventures and one of the most important narratives we have of life in the 14th century.

Lakhdar, this novel’s 18-year-old narrator, will also leave home and write about it. Though his journeys are limited to Morocco, Tunisia and Spain, they provide a glimpse into the tremors of the Arab spring, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, and the indignados movement in Spain. These subjects may seem ripped from the headlines, but they are not unusual for Énard, a French novelist whose work often focuses on war and political conflict.

You can read the rest here. Last week, I also spoke to NPR’s Colin Dwyer about book blurbs and why they persist. Take a look.

Photo: Bruno d’Amicis for The Guardian.

Back to School

September 4th, 2015

Back Home

I spent a month at Yaddo Colony, in upstate New York, working on my new novel. The grounds were beautiful, but also filled with mosquitoes and ticks. Most of the time, I forgot to wear insect repellent. I swam in the pool that John Cheever built. I didn’t have to make a meal, scrub a sink, pick up the mail, or take out the trash. I walked alone. I missed my husband. I missed him so much I cried. I watched several news cycles from afar. (The Confederate flag came down. The Iran nuclear deal was signed. The Saudi government continued bombing Yemen, to almost universal indifference. The Syrian refugee crisis worsened. There was another mass shooting. Another case of police abuse. A clown decided to run for president.) I found that the world got by without my taking note of every piece of news, much less my commenting on it. I read a lot. I wrote a lot.

In July, I found out that The Moor’s Account had won the American Book Award and the Arab American Book Award, and that it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Reviews in the UK began to appear, including in The Guardian, The Independent, and The Financial Times.

This summer, I also published a personal essay about my grandmother’s good luck charm in The New York Times Magazine. In August, my review of Amitav Ghosh’s Flood of Fire, the final volume in his Ibis trilogy, appeared in The New York Times Book Review. I also took part in a Room for Debate forum on diversity in core humanities courses.

But all this was mostly white noise, as I spent the majority of my time working on my book. I’m trying to get as much done as I can before I have to resume teaching later this month. I will also be on the road in the fall, and you can find out more about my upcoming events here.

Gone Writing

June 30th, 2015


Summer is here. I am spending it working on my new novel, so things are likely to be very quiet on this blog and on my social media accounts for a while. But I did want to mention that my review of Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, an inventive retelling of Albert Camus’ The Stranger from the point of view of the victim’s brother, appeared on the cover of the New York Times Book Review earlier this month.

Also, The Moor’s Account will come out in paperback in the U.S. on August 18 and in the U.K. on August 27. I will be going on book tour again in the fall. Check the events page for details.

Pulitzer Prize Finalist

April 21st, 2015


I was teaching an undergraduate fiction workshop yesterday when I received a text from my friend Mark congratulating me. “On what?” I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about. Then I found out that The Moor’s Account was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, along with Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank With You and Joyce Carol Oates’s Lovely, Dark, Deep. The winner was Anthony Doerr for All The Light We Cannot See. In shock, I blurted out the news to my students, who erupted in applause and cheers.

I’m thrilled and grateful for this recognition, and I am especially honored to be included in such fine company. When I came across the story of Mustafa/Estebanico six years ago, I immediately knew it had to be told in the form of a novel, but I worried that I did not have the talent to do it and that, even if I did somehow pull it off, no one would care about it. But this character simply wouldn’t let go of me, so I took a leap. I wrote the book I wanted to write, with no expectation of it ever finding a readership or garnering any attention. But, oh, it’s so nice when that happens! My heartfelt thanks to the Pulitzer Prize fiction judges.

Last week, The Moor’s Account was also named a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in fiction, a national prize for published writers of African descent. The other nominees are Chris Abani’s The Secret History of Las Vegas, Ishmael Beah’s Radiance of Tomorrow, Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, Nadifa Mohamed’s The Orchard of Lost Souls, and Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in Washington, DC, in October.

Spring Events

March 23rd, 2015


I’m popping back on the blog for a couple of announcements. The audio book of The Moor’s Account, read by Neil Shah, was released by Audible last month. UK rights to the book have sold to Mitchell Albert at Garnet, with publication scheduled for August 2015, which will coincide with the paperback release of the book with Vintage, here in the U.S. And I am back on the road again! I will be doing two events at the Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans. Details below:

March 27, 2015
10:30 AM
Deceptive Histories, Truthful Fictions
Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival
The Historic New Orleans Collection
New Orleans, Louisiana

March 28, 2015
11:30 AM
Panel: The Transnationalists – American Writers on Border Crossings
Molly Crabapple, Phil Klay, Laila Lalami, moderated by Pamela Paul
Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival
Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom

Then, in April, I will be doing a panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

April 19, 2015
12:30 PM
Fiction: Untold Stories
Ryan Gattis, Laila Lalami, Atticus Lish, Nina Revoyr, moderated by Michelle Franke
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
University of Southern California

Do come by and say hi!

Photo: Morning dew on a recent hike in Solstice Canyon, Santa Monica.

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