The New York Times
Home Boyby H. M. Naqvi
—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
They are renaissance men. They are bons vivants. They are three young Pakistani men in New York City at the turn of the millennium: AC, a gangsta-rap-spouting academic; Jimbo, a/b>/i>
“Naqvi’s fast-paced plot, foul-mouthed erudition and pitch-perfect dialogue make for a stellar debut.”
—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
They are renaissance men. They are bons vivants. They are three young Pakistani men in New York City at the turn of the millennium: AC, a gangsta-rap-spouting academic; Jimbo, a hulking Pushtun DJ from the streets of Jersey City; and Chuck, a wideeyed kid, fresh off the boat from the homeland, just trying to get by. Things start coming together for Chuck when he unexpectedly secures a Wall Street gig and begins rolling with socialites and scenesters flanked by his pals, who routinely bring down the house at hush-hush downtown haunts. In a city where origins matter less than the talent for self-invention, the three Metrostanis have the guts to claim the place as their own.
But when they embark on a road trip to the hinterland weeks after 9/11 in search of the Shaman, a Gatsbyesque compatriot who seemingly disappears into thin air, things go horribly wrong. Suddenly, they find themselves in a changed, charged America.
Rollicking, bittersweet, and sharply observed, Home Boy is at once an immigrant’s tale, a mystery, and a story of love and loss, as well as a unique meditation on Americana and notions of collective identity. It announces the debut of an original, electrifying voice in contemporary fiction.
The New York Times
Naqvi's debut novel introduces Chuck, a 20-something Pakistani living in New York and one of the most engaging protagonists to come along in a while. After moving from Karachi to attend NYU, Chuck readily adapts to the customs of his new home-especially those involving alcohol, cocaine and skirt chasing-but he's not the average drunk college kid: he and his friends, AC and Jimbo, are like a Pakistani-American version of the Three Musketeers-in their own eyes, "boulevardiers, raconteurs, renaissance men." After graduating, Chuck lands a job as an investment banker (his mother's idea), and after a good run, he's fired during a brief economic downturn. Shortly thereafter, his former office building, 7 World Trade Center, is the third building to go down on 9/11. Suddenly, the act of the debonair dandy is a little harder to pull off: with no job, little money, and the rapidly increasing hostility of Americans towards all things Muslim, Chuck struggles to make sense of his newfound status as an outsider. Naqvi's fast-paced plot, foul-mouthed erudition and pitch-perfect dialogue make for a stellar debut. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
- Crown Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.74(w) x 8.54(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
We’d become Japs, Jews, Niggers. We weren’t before. We fancied ourselves boulevardiers, raconteurs, renaissance men, AC, Jimbo, and me. We were mostly self-invented and self-made and certain we had our fingers on the pulse of the great global dialectic. We surveyed the Times and the Post and other treatises of mainstream discourse on a daily basis, consulted the Voice weekly, and often leafed through other publications with more discriminating audiences such as Tight or Big Butt. Save Jimbo, who wasn’t a big reader, we had read the Russians, the postcolonial canon, but had been taken by the brash, boisterous voices of contemporary American fiction; we watched nature documentaries when we watched TV, and variety shows on Telemundo, and generally did not follow sports except when Pakistan played India in cricket or the Knicks made a playoff run; we listened to Nusrat and the new generation of native rockers, as well as old-school gangsta rap, so much so that we were known to spontaneously break into Straight outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube / From a gang called Niggaz With Attitude but were underwhelmed by hip-hop’s hegemony (though Jimbo was known to defend Eminem’s trimetric compositions and drew comparisons be?tween hip-hop’s internal rhythms and the beat of Kurdish marching bands). And we slummed in secret cantons of Central Park, avoided the meatpacking district, often dined in Jackson Heights; weren’t rich but weren’t poor (possessing, for instance, extravagant footwear but no real estate); weren’t frum but avoided pork—me on principle and Jimbo because of habit—though AC’s vigorous atheism allowed him extensive culinary latitude; and drank everywhere, some more than others, celebrating ourselves with vodka on the rocks or Wild Turkey with water (and I’d discovered beer in June) among the company of women, black, Oriental, and denizens of the Caucasian nation alike.
Though we shared a common denominator and were told half-jokingly, Oh, all you Pakistanis are alike, we weren’t the same, AC, Jimbo, and me. AC—a cryptonym, short in part for Ali Chaudhry—was a charming rogue, an intellectual dandy, a man of theatrical presence. Striding into a room sporting his signature pencil-thin mustache, one-button ve?lour smoking jacket, and ankle-high rattlesnake-skins, he demanded attention, an audience. He’d comb his brilliantined mane back and flatten it with wide palms. He’d raise his arm, reveal a nicotine-stained grin, and roar, “Let the revelry commence!” then march up to you, meaty palm extended, de?claiming, “There you are, chum! We need to talk immediately!” Of us three, he was the only immigrant. While he lived day to day in a rent-stabilized railway apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and moonlighted as a sub at a Bronx middle school, his elder sister had emigrated in ’81—at the tail end of the first wave of Pakistani immigrants—and enjoyed spectacular success. A decade later she sponsored AC’s green card. A small, no-bullshit lady, Mini Auntie worked at the pediatric ward at Beth Israel on East 87th, lived in a brownstone around the corner, and financed AC’s on-and-off-again doctorate and studied debauchery.
Jamshed Khan, known universally as Jimbo, was a different cat altogether, a gentle, moon-faced man-mountain with kinky dreadlocks and a Semitic nose which, according to AC, affirmed anthropological speculation that Pathans are the Lost Tribe of Israel. Not that such grand themes moved or motivated Jimbo. Propped against a wall like a benign, overstuffed scarecrow, he’d keep to himself, but at a late juncture he would grab you by the arm to articulate the conversation he’d been having in his head. Jimbo was known to converse in nonmalapropisms and portmanteaus, his deliberate locutions characterized by irregular inflexion of voice, by rhyme if not rationale. On the face of it, he was a space cadet, but we knew he knew what was what. Unlike AC or me, he had a steady girlfriend and, as a DJ slash producer, a vocation with certain cachet. If his career trajectory opened doors in the city, it estranged him from his septuagenarian father, a retired foreman settled in Jersey City for a quarter of a century. In that time he’d raised a son and a daughter and several notable edifices on either side of the Hudson. Born and bred in Jersey, Jimbo was a bonafide American.
As for me, they called me Chuck and it stuck. I was growing up but thought I was grown-up, was and remain not so tall, lean, angular, like my late father, have brown hair, tin-tinted eyes, and a sharp nose, “like an eaglet,” my mother liked to say. I’d arrived in New York from Karachi four years earlier to attend college, which I completed swimmingly in three, and, though I was the only expatriate among us, liked to believe I’d since claimed the city and the city had claimed me.
The turn of the century had been epic, and we were easy then, and on every other Monday night you’d see us at Tja!, this bar-restaurant-and-lounge populated by the local Scandinavian scenesters and sundry expatriates as well as socialites, arrivistes, homosexuals, metrosexuals, and a smattering of has-been and wannabe models. Located on the periphery of Tribeca, Tja! seldom drew passersby or hoi polloi, perhaps because there were no gilded ropes circumscribing the entrance, no bouncers or surly transvestites maintaining vigil outside. It was hush-hush, invitation by wink and word of mouth. We got word that summer when my gay friend Lawrence né Larry introduced us to a pair of lesbian party promoters who called themselves Blond and Blonder, and ever since the beau monde included a Pakistani contingent comprising Jimbo, AC, and me.
Soon Jimbo a.k.a. DJ Jumbolaya was spinning there, and when I’d arrive, he’d already be in the booth, svelte in a very Kung Fu Fighting tracksuit, swaying from side to side, hand cupped around ear, pudgy fingertips smoothing vinyl like it was chapati. Starting down-tempo with, say, a track from a cooing Portuguese lounge singer, he’d then kick it with some thumping Senegalese pop, seamlessly, effortlessly, as if the latter were an organic extension of the former. DJ Jumbolaya distilled the post-disco-proto-house-neo-soul canon in his compositions. His credo was: Is All Good.
When I’d slide next to him and pay respect—high five, chest bump, that kind of thing—he’d say something like “Dude, you’ve come to sip martinis and look pretty ’cause you’re a preena, a lova, a prophet, a dreama,” and when I’d ask what he was having, he’d say whatever, so I’d order a couple of cocktails from Jon the bartender, who would have his shirt unbuttoned to his navel and make drinks for us on the house. He told me he’d served in the French Foreign Legion as a chef and, recognizing me as a man of the world, would relate news (“you hear about the latest Mai-Mai offensive?”), dispense proprietary advice (“it’s best to run hot water over a razor before shaving as the metal expands”), and discuss matters of aesthetics (“that one, yeah, the one that’s looking at me, she’s got what’s called a callipygian rump”). Leaning on the bar, drink in hand, I’d suck it all in.
Friends would show up in ones and twos, characters we knew from Tja! and here and there. There was Roger, a towering sommelier originally from Castle Hill, who’d taken classes in conversational Urdu because, he’d say, “I dig your women.” Once he asked, “You think they’d make with a brother? What do I gotta do, man? Like, recite Faiz?” And Ari, a curator at a Chelsea art gallery who cultivated a late Elvis bouffant, had this great story about his first day at P.S. 247 when he found himself in Dodgeball Alley at lunch: “So the black and white kids separated into teams, like it was 1951 or something, and there was this pencil-neck Chink and a bunch of sorry-looking Spics, and me, the Jewboy. We didn’t know which side to join, and like nobody wanted us, so we banded together like the Last of the Mo’s. And sure, we got our asses kicked pretty bad the first day, but man, after a couple of weeks, they were black and blue . . .” By and by and arm in arm, Blond and Blonder circulated, making small talk and grand gestures—“Like those shoes!” “Canapé for everyone!” Sometimes Jimbo’s girlfriend made an appearance. A natty, masculine woman with a belly and waddle, she hailed from East Coast aristocracy, sipped berry Bellinis, no cassis, and moved with a hipster crowd—what’s called an urban tribe—comprising acolytes. We all loved her and called her the Duck.
On occasion, when I’d find a girl perched on a distant barstool, legs crossed, hair wafting the scent of apple shampoo, I’d say, “Ciao ciao, baby.” It wasn’t a pickup line, just something I muttered when drunk. The last time we’d been at Tja!, a girl with mermaid eyes and a pronounced Latin lisp had actually responded to my tender advance with a staccato laugh. “Next week,” she’d said before being tugged away, “jou ’n me tan-go!” There was, I believed, great promise in the phrase, in what AC would have dubbed the proverbial tango.
Meet the Author
H. M. NAQVI is a graduate of Georgetown and the creative writing program at Boston University. He won the Phelam Prize for poetry and represented Pakistan at the National Poetry Slam in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In recent years, he taught creative writing at B.U., and presently divides his time between Karachi and the U.S. East Coast.
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A young Pakistani named Chuck has decided to come to New York City to attend college and pursue his dream of freedom and action in the United States. He begins his journey by getting help from his aunt, who already lives in America, and her brother, AC. AC immediately befriends Chuck and brings him into his group of Pakistani men living the high life in America in "Home Boy." Along with AC, Chuck meets Jimbo who is a deejay at the hippest underground clubs where they all hang out and get free drinks and all the women they can handle. After Chuck graduates college, he gets a job on Wall Street as an investment banker, which allows him to send money back home to his mother frequently. Soon, the economy begins to go bad and Chuck loses his job and cannot find another. Through Pakistani connections in New York City, he eventually gets a cabbie license and with the help of an older Pakistani man, he becomes just another stereotype-a foreign can driver in New York City. And then September 11, 2001 occurs. One night after 9-11, Chuck is working and the fare he picks up is his old boss from Wall Street. The man is drunk and does not know where he wants to go. Chuck is planning on picking up Jimbo and AC after his shift to drive to their friend's house in New Jersey, but since his former boss is passed out in his cab, he decides to take him along for the ride. On the way to their friend's, Chuck gets stopped by the police. What once wouldn't have been much of a problem now is. Three Pakistani men in a car with one semi-conscious white man. After much questioning, Chuck is finally allowed to proceed. He decides to drop his boss off back in NYC, and then they head to their friend's house, where no one is home. The three men let themselves inside where they decide to wait for their friend to come home. After a few days Chuck decides he's had enough and just as he begins to leave, the house is invaded by police, guns drawn. After a search of the house, the police decide Chuck and his friends are terrorists and must be detained. When Chuck finally gets out of prison, by the mercy of an American who does not believe all Pakistanis are terrorists, he decides the world is not the same as it once was and he no longer wants to be an American. He calls his mother and asks if he can come back home. Told in a stream-of-consciousness, not always clear manner, this is a story any modern day American is familiar with. However, it is told from the point of view that many of us are not familiar with, creating an empathetic, eye-opening tale.
Great book with excellently paced plot. It is incredibly accurate when it comes to describing the struggles we as immigrants face, from society and ourselves.
The book does a nice job of depicting the change in perception toward people perceived as "Muslim" or "Arab" during the occurrence of the attack on September 11. The author accurately describes the negative impact the attack had on an entire culture of people, based on media representation and the mob-like mentality of the culturally intolerant segment of the US population. The author avoids making a political statement as to the source of the worst of the negative characterizations. He instead provides snippets of media conversation to convey his points. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in seeing the impact of 9/11 from a culturally different perspective--a perspective of those Americans who are judged merely for sharing some of the same physical traits or religions origins as those who committed terrible acts.
This horribly smart, funny novel is all heart -- with a sliver of ice. You won't know what's been done to you -- or, for you -- until you finish reading, but you'll be riveted all the way. The howling dislocation of being a Pakistani in New York just after 9/11 could not possibly be better rendered, nor could the sea change of that era, the grit that settled forever and made us grow up. This is a work of art that helps to define our times, to answer the nagging question: who are we, really? To do all that, it shouldn't be so much fun to read. But it is. It is.
H. M. Naqvi's Home Boy takes the reader to post-9/11 Manhattan through the eyes of Chuck and his two "chums," AC and Jimbo. The three are suddenly wrenched from their bon vivant cosmopolitan lives when they're picked up by the FBI and thrown into a detention center for questioning. Naqvi's narrative and dialogue are brilliantly rendered, capturing the ethos and ethnicity of the New York experience in tones that for me bring Faulkner to mind rather than Rushdie. Race, religion and tough guy interrogation tactics reveal a coming of age, not only for Chuck and his chums, but everyone in a time when precarious human rights can be dispensed with on the basis of suspicion alone. By contrast, Naqvi also explores the lifetime bonds of family and friendship. It's a tale of tragedy and laughter, both captured in unforgettable scenes. For instance, the classes and test Chuck has to take before getting his NY cab driver's license after being laid off in the banking business. H. M. Naqvi is an extraordinary raconteur. His gifts of insight match his gift of gab.
This is simply the best novel I have read in years (and I read a lot of novels). Funnier than Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, more substantive than Shteyngart's Absurdistan, Naqvi achieves a masterly comic prose: witty, intelligent, sensitive, poignant, hilarious, all at the same time. Naqvi is the shrewdest observer of cosmopolitan urban life that I know, with a unique eye for just the right telling detail. Even as seasoned and celebrated a novelist as Salman Rushdie tried and failed to capture the New York City zeitgeist of the new millenium in his novel Fury, but Naqvi succeeds, and succeeds brilliantly where Rushdie couldn't. This novel shows how people from all over the world (whether from Pakistan or Senegal or Korea) easily become "New Yorkers" in no time. The plot is compelling and the language is exquisite. Buy it. Read it. And then you'll end up buying many copies for friends, just as I did. Young Husain Murtaza Naqvi is the, ah, new South Asian writer to watch.