English is Laila Lalami’s fourth language. Born in Morocco, she first spoke Moroccan Arabic, before learning Standard Arabic and French – the language of her first writings – and only then English.
Lalami later added Spanish for good measure although she only began writing fiction and non-fiction in English in 1996, having moved to California in 1992 to study for a PhD in linguistics. Her four novels to date have all featured Moroccans as their central characters. ‘I never expected to become an immigrant or to be writing fiction in English,’ she says, ‘but these two decisions have had a profound impact on my creative and critical thinking.’ For more than 20 years she has kept a journal in which she records the number of words she has written each day.