American Dervish: A Novel

American Dervish: A Novel

4.3 39
by Ayad Akhtar, Author
     
 

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Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.

Mina is Hayat's mother's oldest friend from

Overview

Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.

Mina is Hayat's mother's oldest friend from Pakistan. She is independent, beautiful and intelligent, and arrives on the Shah's doorstep when her disastrous marriage in Pakistan disintegrates. Even Hayat's skeptical father can't deny the liveliness and happiness that accompanies Mina into their home. Her deep spirituality brings the family's Muslim faith to life in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina's side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher.

When Mina meets and begins dating a man, Hayat is confused by his feelings of betrayal. His growing passions, both spiritual and romantic, force him to question all that he has come to believe is true. Just as Mina finds happiness, Hayat is compelled to act — with devastating consequences for all those he loves most.

American Dervish is a brilliantly written, nuanced, and emotionally forceful look inside the interplay of religion and modern life. Ayad Akhtar was raised in the Midwest himself, and through Hayat Shah he shows readers vividly the powerful forces at work on young men and women growing up Muslim in America. This is an intimate, personal first novel that will stay with listeners long after they finish.

Editorial Reviews

Boris Kachka - New York Magazine
"Akhtar, the star and director of the 2005 terrorism drama The War Within, offers what promises to be one of the most complex treatments of Muslim immigration and fundamentalism to come from an American-born (albeit first-generation) writer."
Manil Suri
"Whether you believe religion is a precious gift from God or the greatest scourge of mankind, you will find yourself represented in these pages. With brilliant storytelling and exquisitely balanced points of view, Ayad Akhtar creates characters who experience the rapture of religion but also have their lives ripped apart by it."
From the Publisher
"Akhtar, the star and director of the 2005 terrorism drama The War Within, offers what promises to be one of the most complex treatments of Muslim immigration and fundamentalism to come from an American-born (albeit first-generation) writer."—Boris Kachka, New York Magazine"

Whether you believe religion is a precious gift from God or the greatest scourge of mankind, you will find yourself represented in these pages. With brilliant storytelling and exquisitely balanced points of view, Ayad Akhtar creates characters who experience the rapture of religion but also have their lives ripped apart by it."—Manil Suri, author of The Death of Vishnu and The Age of Shiva

Publishers Weekly
Poor Hayat Shah: his father drinks and sleeps around; his mother constantly tells him how awful Muslim men are (especially his father, with his “white prostitutes”); he doesn’t seem to have any friends; and he’s in love with his mother’s best friend, the beautiful Mina who’s his mother’s age and something of an aunt to him. Unlike his parents, Mina, who came to Milwaukee from a bad marriage in Pakistan, is devout, which makes sexual stirrings and the Qur’an go hand in hand for the young Hayat (aside from a framing device, the story mostly takes place when he’s between 10 and 12). His rival for Mina’s love isn’t just a grown man, he’s Jewish, so along with the roil of conflicting ideas about gender, sexuality, and Islamic constraint vs. Western looseness, first-time novelist Akhtar also takes on anti-Semitism. Though set well before 9/11, the book is clearly affected by it, with Akhtar determined to traffic in big themes and illustrate the range of Muslim thought and practice. This would be fine if the book didn’t so often feel contrived, stocked with caricatures rather than people. Ultimately, Akhtar’s debut reads like a melodramatic YA novel, not because of the age of its narrator but because of the abundance of lessons to be learned. (Jan.)
Library Journal
In this first novel, set in pre-9/11 America, Pakistan American youngster Hayat Shah is thrilled when his mother's unassailably smart, beautiful, and devout friend Mina comes to America to live with his family. She introduces him to the joys of the Quran, but when her attentions move beyond the family, Hayat becomes jealous and falls prey to his community's anti-Semitism. Film writer/director Akhtar has a partly cinematic style; it's acute but not cut-to-the-chase. Ripe for discussion, so it's good there's an interfaith reading group guide. With rights sold to 19 countries and a seven-city tour.
Kirkus Reviews
Actor/playwright/filmmaker Akhtar makes a compelling debut with a family drama centered on questions of religious and ethnic identity. In 1980s Milwaukee, 10-year-old Hayat Shah lives in a troubled Pakistani-American household. Father, a determinedly secular neurologist, has no use for the ostentatiously devout local Muslim community; his best friend is a Jewish colleague, Nathan, and he cheats on his wife with white women, a fact Hayat's angry mother is all too willing to share with her son. The arrival of Mina, Mother's best friend from home who has been divorced by her husband for having "a fast mouth," brings added tension. Mina, a committed but non-dogmatic Muslim, introduces Hayat to the beauties of the Quran and encourages him to become a hafiz, someone who knows the holy book by heart. But Hayat's feelings for his "auntie" have sexual undercurrents that disturb them both, and his jealousy when Mina and Nathan fall in love leads him to a terrible act of betrayal that continues to haunt him as a college student in 1990. Akhtar, himself a first-generation Pakistani-American from Milwaukee, perfectly balances a moving exploration of the understanding and serenity Islam imparts to an unhappy preteen with an unsparing portrait of fundamentalist bigotry and cruelty, especially toward intelligent women like Mina. His well-written, strongly plotted narrative is essentially a conventional tale of family conflict and adolescent angst, strikingly individualized by its Muslim fabric. Hayat's father is in many ways the most complex and intriguing character, but Mina and Nathan achieve a tragic nobility that goes beyond their plot function as instruments of the boy's moral awakening. Though the story occasionally dips into overdetermined melodrama, its warm tone and traditional but heartfelt coming-of-age lesson will appeal to a broad readership. Engaging and accessible, thoughtful without being daunting: This may be the novel that brings Muslim-American fiction into the commercial mainstream.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781611136173
Publisher:
Hachette Audio
Publication date:
01/09/2012
Pages:
8
Sales rank:
1,104,825
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 5.87(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Ayad Akhtar is an American-born, first generation Pakistani-American from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He holds degrees in Theater from Brown University and in Directing from the Graduate Film Program at Columbia University, where he won multiple awards for his work. He is the author of numerous screenplays and was star and co-writer of The War Within, which premiered at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay and an International Press Academy Satellite Award for Best Picture - Drama. American Dervish is his first novel.

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American Dervish 4.3 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 39 reviews.
kdpeffley More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. I heard the author interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air and immediately knew that I wanted to read this book and just about anything else written by him. The story is told through the eyes of a young man who recalls his boyhood relationship with his parents and his aunt, who gives him the loving encouragement he seeks during his study of the Quran. While he takes on the huge task of memorizing the Quran to become a hafiz, his aunt reminds him again and again to seek its meaning from the heart of intension, not simply as a trophy for the ego to conquer. Meanwhile, his father's close friend, who happens to be Jewish, courts his aunt and old deep seated prejudices and hatreds in the Muslim community conspire to destroy their love. The story told is compelling and heartening for the main reason that it takes on such difficult issues within Muslim culture as it carefully weaves in the boy's inspired religious innocense and coming of age to meet these hard realities. The end result was refreshingly human as well as it was disturbing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to have an intimate glimpse into the life of a modern Muslim family and its struggles to assimilate into American culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful book. It is an interesting look at a young American boy's experiences with his faith. I found the characters of both his mother and father to be intruiging. Highly recomment this book.
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar was a book that I enjoyed.  Hayat is a character that I just wanted to yell at!  I really liked him, but could see him going down the wrong path a few times.  But that made me more engaged in the story itself.   This book takes you into a small piece of the Muslim world in America.  The characters in the book are torn with feelings about Jews: some see them as completely terrible as "evidenced" (reading the literal, as some sects of religions do with the Bible and Torah) in the Quran, while others read something opposite in the same words.   Hayat and his family have to make faith-based decisions on those feelings, and this fictional tale is one that will leave you wanting more.   Thanks for reading, Rebecca @ Love at First Book
OurBookAddiction More than 1 year ago
I was sucked into this from the first chapter. I tend to enjoy these “coming of age” stories and especially where we are dealing with an individual trying to straddle two different cultures. I really think the author did a wonderful job laying out this story. I know there have been some critics that complained he “told” the story more than he let it reveal itself. I disagree because I personally don’t have a problem being “told” a story if the context makes sense and it is done appropriately.
EmilyNM More than 1 year ago
I did not want this book to end--I fell in love with it after the first few chapters. I love learning about the Islamic tradition and this book has been on the top of my reading list. I found the coming-of-age story to be emotional and engaging, and Akhtar's writing is very honest, which solidifies this as one of my favorite books now! I highly recommend Censoring an Iranian Love Story--it has been my #1 favorite since it came out. I look forward to reading more from Akhtar.
BookerC More than 1 year ago
Very perceptively written. A very unusual coming-of-age book, dealing with issues of immigrants and their American-born children; the religiously observant and the skeptics, and the extremes found among both; anti-Semitic factions and Muslims who believe adamantly in the subjugation of women, and the women who are torn between fighting for their own self-worth and independence, and following the faith in which they were raised.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unlike other resources out there, American Dervish does not sugar coat the issue of interfaith relationships. It uses the perspective of a young boy, Hayat, (around the age of 11) to explore, in one facet, the way that he sees his auntie Mina (a Muslim) and his father’s friend, Nathan, (a Jew’s) interfaith relationship. However, their relationship is highly problematic. Mina has convinced Nathan to convert to Islam, yet he cannot shake his Jewish identity. In a particularly shocking moment, the members of the mosque bully Nathan out after cornering him in a shoe closet when he protests the Imam’s particularly hateful speech about Judaism. He has gone there to convert in order to marry Mina and yet this is the beginning of the end to their relationship. The involvement of the community destroys their individual love. While many interfaith couples think that they can create their own individually combined religious values despite their respective religious traditions’ opinions, this book paints a very different picture of the situation. No matter how much in love they were, they were still tied to their traditions because community and culture mattered. This book offered a different perspective on interreligious relationships, which sought to problematize what happens when love doesn’t conquer all.  The novel shoots for realism, and achieves it in many ways. It is beautifully written and compelling. However, what needs to be asked is what is the source of the conflict amongst all the characters? Religion is problematic, not love. It is not simply the bigoted few, who seek to destroy the relationship of Mina and Nathan, but the seemingly innocent religious views of the main character, Hayat, and the religious leaders of the community, the imam and co. . Then, why cannot Mina and Nathan love each other? The answer is not only religion, but Islam. Interfaith relationships may work, but surely not when Islam is involved because it only causes pain and suffering. It is not just any religion that is tearing these two people apart, but the stereotypes about Islam. Islam doesn’t just happen to be a factor in their separation, but it is the factor. While this novel portrays the situations with vibrant realism, behind each situation are Islamophibic stereotypes being thoroughly reinforced. Not only is the entire faithful Muslim community (those depicted as attending mosque and reading the Qur’an) Anti-Semites, the men enforce patriarchy, and they violently beat their wives (because the Qur’an says so). The Muslims within this novel are an archaic bunch, and the only voice of reason, Hayat’s father, has completely turned away from Islam. The only positive portrayal within this novel of Islam is that it is not monolithic, however, because Hayat turns away from his original interpretation of the Qur’an, the uninformed reader sees the Imam and other negative characters’ interpretations of Islam as the real truth of all Muslims. If one was reading this book and looking for reasons to hate Muslims, they would be justified on almost every front. This book portrays a complex and complicated view of intermarriage because it is another mode for critiquing Islam itself by reinforcing stereotypes about the Muslim community. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In light of world events, I believe this is a must read to get a feel of the various views of the Islamic community of the U s.
fussy18reader More than 1 year ago
The many voices of Islam are expressed through very real family member's and their extended community. The parallel's that come up in my Torah study classes, within my Jewish community are startling in similarity. The story is engaging and well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down! I loved it. It reminds me of Jhumpa Lahiri's fiction in that it is told from the point of view of American children of immigrants. I found the story absorbing and well written. Read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are many American dysfunctional families but to read how Islam dictates family requirements is eye-opening. I highly recommend this book about a young boy, his beautiful aunt from Pakistan and his parents. I understand this is a first novel. The characters are very well drawn out and the plot builds. It's great!
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KathleenP More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the story, and didn't want the book to end. I am hoping there will be a continuation, as I really want to know how Hayat's life and his parents lives, and Mina's kids end up.
UAK More than 1 year ago
I was so incredibly disappointed after reading this book. It portrays Muslims as angry and extremist monsters. This book did a great disservice to the large amounts of Muslims that live in North America peacefully. I wish Ayyad Akhter would have used his talents in a better way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We see through a child's eyes, trying to make sense of adult conflicts, hypocrisy and senseless hatred, finally coming to terms with and embracing the freedom of uncertainty. A wonderful read.