Praise and Reviews

  • Andrew Carnegie Medal longlist
  • Finalist for the California Book Award
  • Alta Best Books of the year
  • Time Magazine Best Books of the year
  • BookPage Best Books of the year
  • NPR Best Books of the year
  • Los Angeles Times 10 Best California Books
  • New York Times Editors Choice
  • Publishers Weekly starred review
  • BookPage starred review
  • BookList starred review

“Laila Lalami has written with such sharp clarity and illuminating insight that reading this book was like encountering America for the first time. Probing, unflinching and fiercely intelligent, Conditional Citizens is a must-read for all of those who have stared, stunned, at the shifting terrain of our political landscape and wondered how we got here, and what we can do.”
—Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King

“This is an urgent, compelling, and persuasive book, written by one of our most important critics of the American character. Laila Lalami has given us a clear-eyed, even-handed assessment of this country’s potential—and its limits—through her insightful notion of conditional citizenship. Her book is a gift to all Americans—if they are willing to receive it.”
—Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer and Nothing Ever Dies

“With great moral passion and intellectual verve, Laila Lalami explores the questions the political volcanos of our times have thrown at us: where do we belong, how contingent is our place in the world, and how are citizens made and unmade? Whether narrating her own journey or invoking history and literature, she equips us with bracingly fresh resources to confront our terrible new age of mass deportations, border walls, and brutally enforced statelessness.”
—Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger

Conditional Citizens is a blitz on the way the nation titillates and injures its most vulnerable. Lalami has created a fleshy yet rigorous treatise on how this national obsession with suffering necessitates different ways to be and to remember. The book is absolutely remarkable.”
—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir

“Best known as a novelist, Lalami is also an acute and pointed essayist. Her first collection highlights the divisions and dislocations of immigrant communities in the age of Trump. Moving fluidly between the personal and the collective, this is political writing at its most effective, grounded in the author’s experience but turned outward, to the inequities (and worse) many Americans face as a matter of course.”
Los Angeles Times

“Lalami’s passionate exploration shows that for citizens like herself, being treated as fully American is rarely a given. In striking prose, she explores the United States’ tortured history of questioning who belongs and forces us to examine the gap between the dream and the reality of American life.”
Time Magazine

“By fusing deep research with lived experience, the book doesn’t just ask you to consider that the personal is political; it makes you marvel that anyone could still presume otherwise.”
Entertainment Weekly

Conditional Citizens offers a searing look at the struggle for all Americans to achieve liberty and equality. Lalami eloquently tacks between her experiences as an immigrant to this country and the history of U.S. attempts to exclude different categories of people from the full benefits of citizenship….These essays amass a shocking amount of evidence that as a country, the United States is falling far short in protecting and guaranteeing its promised full rights to all citizens.”
Washington Post

“Drawing on her considerable talents and abundant intelligence Lalami attempts to account for the ways that powerful American forces use class status, religion, border policing, national origin, non-whiteness, and gender to diminish and deactivate full citizenship….Conditional Citizens clarifies the stakes of the most crucial American election season of the 21st century thus far.”
—Boston Globe

“Lalami’s writing reflects a citizen who’s described the matted underbelly of her adopted home, a citizen cautioning us that what we believe of ourselves, our laws, our country has and will shift to suit the ever-changing demands of power.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“The power of a book like Conditional Citizens is in its ability to open space for this kind of remembrance and accounting without requiring complete identification. It invites the privileged, the contingent and the most vulnerable to contemplate the limits of citizenship and see through the delusion of American exceptionalism.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

“Lalami shows how our nation’s schizophrenia toward immigrants — Immigrants built this great country! We are a nation of immigrants! Immigrants bring disease, crime and rob us of our jobs! — can give conditional citizens whiplash as they are simultaneously regarded as America’s best hope and its gravest threat, a combination of suspicion and rejection that Asians, Italians and the Irish, among others, have all faced.”
New York Times Book Review

“Casual encounters in everyday life prompt [Lalami] to probe American history and unearth forgotten facts and significant erasures….Her goal is to thread together the experiences of a breathtakingly diverse underclass. This constituency is increasingly finding its voice, and she is amplifying what had long been intimate, complicated inner thoughts.”

“A powerful meditation on the gray zones many US citizens inhabit amid the traditionally rigid categories of race, religion, and gender.”

“An insightful look into how systemic injustice persists in a country whose founding values are rooted in freedom and equality….Conditional Citizens is a call to do better, to transcend these imposed divisions and build a healthier society that is not fractured by tribalism and polarization.”
Michigan Quarterly Review

“In this eloquent and troubling account, novelist and National Book Award–finalist Lalami 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.” … This profound inquiry into the American immigrant experience deserves to be widely read.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Propulsive, fascinating… Lalami treats this complex, incendiary topic with nuanced consideration and blistering insight.”
—Booklist (starred review)

Conditional Citizens is thoroughly researched, as evidenced by its detailed source notes and bibliography, but in this gifted storyteller’s hands, it never feels like homework. Lalami braids statistics and historical context with her lived experiences to illustrate how unjust policies and the biases that feed them can affect individual lives.”
—BookPage (starred review)

“Consistently thoughtful and incisive, the book confronts the perils of our modern age with truths to inspire the coalition-building necessary to American cultural and democratic survival. A bracingly provocative collection perfect for our times.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Laila Lalami’s first non-fiction book raises vital questions about the meaning of citizenship during an era in which the rights of citizens have become increasingly tenuous. A naturalized U.S. citizen with roots in Morocco and California, Lalami contrasts our American civic culture of equal rights with the reality of our hierarchical, unequal society. Her thoughtful, concise and informative book is an antidote to the amnesia, denial and despair that feed the status quo. “What I want is freedom,” Lalami writes, “not better conditions of subjugation.” She is not alone.”
—Karen Maeda Allman / Elliott Bay Book Co, Seattle, WA

“Laila Lalami’s account of the multitude of ways that many citizens are treated as lesser is precise and well-argued. Informed by her own experiences, but citing numerous sources about the experience of others, Conditional Citizens makes a convincing case that American society has been—and continues to be—deeply unequal.”
—Keith Mosman / Powell’s Books, Portland, OR

“As both an immigrant to the country and a bookseller serving a population of international staff and students, I am beyond grateful to Laila Lalami for writing this powerful and very necessary book. Lalami skillfully weaves her personal experiences as a conditional citizen with plenty of historical facts, in a way that is accessible, honest, and illuminating. This is a must-add to any reading list of race, social hierarchy, or the dynamics of contemporary American society.
—Grace Rajendran / University Bookstore, Seattle, WA

“The only way to truly understand inequality is to live it. Second best is to have someone with experience share their history with us. The author does just that in her well-written entreaty to all of us, asking us to listen, to really listen, to the stories. To ask questions. To come to some level of understanding and then act to bring about change. Conditional Citizens is a marvel of a memoir. We owe Laila Lalami a debt. We owe all those losing out on the dream a debt. We owe them change.”
—Linda Bond / Auntie’s, Spokane, WA

“Lailami deftly explores the many ways in which immigrant groups have been erased from our national history….Rigorous, passionate, and incendiary, Conditional Citizens is a call to action, a reminder of the fact that the American Dream is a mirage for the very people who need it to be true.”
—Refinery 29

“It is these gray lives, as Lalami calls them, with their confounding heterogeneity, that conditional citizenship seeks to stamp out of being. This collection rescues such lives from oblivion.”

“The beautifully written personal stories she includes give Conditional Citizens a flair and warmth rare in a polemic about what’s wrong with America.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Perhaps the most remarkable part of this book is that it manages to expose so many systems of suppression and maltreatment without losing hope.”

Buy the book