Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Review: American Dervish by Ayad Aktar
Publisher: Little Brown
Source: Personal Copy
**2012 Debut Adult Fiction Author**
Hayat is a Pakistani-American coming from a wealthy, dysfunctional family living in the outskirts of Milwaukee. His mother and father have become very americanized, both have shunned the Qur’an and the community. His parent’s marriage is fragile; his mother warns Hayat against Muslim men and wants him to be nothing like his father. His mother is depressed and lonely; she holds little details from Hayat about his father’s indiscretions. When his mother’s best friend comes to live with them from India, Hayat is immediately infatuated with her. While Mina was giving birth to her son, her husband divorced her, causing her parents great shame. Mina is distraught to be told her son would have to be given to her husband upon his seventh birthday. She escapes to America, hoping for a better life and security for her son. When Mina comes into the household, Hayat is relieved to have a change in atmosphere. He is immediately fascinated with her faith, which she openly begins to teach him. Hayat immerses himself in these teachings, but has a lot to learn about life and literal interpretations.
American Dervish is a captivating read, an amazing debut novel. Hayat is an innocent boy who quickly gets caught up in the beauty of faith, and the ugliness of stereotypes. For the first time in his life, Hayat is showered with attention by someone other than his mother. He hangs on Mina’s every word, and hopes that nothing will come between them. He does everything in his power to stay golden in her eyes. When Hayat realizes that Mina’s attention is divided by a Jewish suitor, Hayat is distressed. What comes next is a surprise, even for Hayat.
Akhtar does not shy away from a difficult topic. There is great comfort that comes from faith, but when literal interpretations begin to cloud ones thoughts, it can be devastating. The book opens in 1990, when Hayat is in college, he begins to reflect on his past. Hayat may not be proud of his past, but he was young, naïve and misguided. Akhtar warns of the dangers that come from being narrow-minded. Tunnel vision can be devastating.
Hayat’s parents do not have likeable personalities, but their intention to give their son a better life is commendable. They want nothing but the best for Hayat however, instead of guiding him in the right direction they want nothing to do with his Qur’an curiosities. Both of his parents seem to be lost, struggling to find their place in this new world. Hayat is struggling to gain acceptance, and wants to be seen. American Dervish is an amazing coming-of-age novel that readers will love. Akhtar presents characters who are trying to make sense of the new world, trying to understand the old world, characters who are lost in the shuffle. The writing is compelling, beautiful and readable. The story is engaging and engrossing. Highly recommended!