Home Boy

Home Boy

4.4 7
by H. M. Naqvi

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“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…  See more details below


“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.

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Editorial Reviews

Joseph Salvatore
Naqvi's smart and sorrowful debut is at once immigrant narrative, bildungs�roman and New York City novel, with a dash of the picaresque…Naqvi is a former slam poet, and his exuberant sentences burst with the rhythms and driving power of that form while steering clear of bombast. Home Boy is a remarkably engaging novel that delights as it disturbs.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

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.)

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Library Journal
Shehzad, aka Chuck, arrived in New York as a naïve student of literature, but it didn't take him long to form a tight-knit community of family, friends, hangouts, and hipsters. His two closest friends are Jimbo and A.C. The three flourish in New York, not rich and not poor but having a tremendous time until September 11, 2001. Suddenly, the city they know and love is no longer the welcoming place of endless possibilities that it was. They are all Pakistanis (via New Jersey for Jimbo), but really they are New Yorkers—New Yorkers viewed with suspicion, even hatred, literally overnight. An ill-advised road trip to check on a friend not heard from since 9/11 sets into action a chain of events that changes the lives of all three men forever. In this coming-of-age story and a novel about a modern immigrant experience, Naqvi provides a unique perspective and intelligent insight into a very tense time in American history. VERDICT Original, well researched, and sharply observed, this debut is recommended for modern fiction readers and fans of memoir.—Shaunna Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA
Kirkus Reviews
In this case the homies are Pakastani-Americans and Pakistanis who want to be American-at least until 9/11 upsets the cultural balance. Shehzad (aka "Chuck") and his homeboys Jamshed (aka "Jimbo") and Ali (aka "AC") have three different takes on life in New York City. Narrator Chuck is the most recent emigre, having come from Karachi to attend college; he breezes through in three years, majoring in literature and graduating magna cum laude. Jimbo, "born and bred in New Jersey" and hence a "bona-fide American," is a "deejay slash producer" more or less engaged to a blue-blooded Mayflower descendant the three friends call "The Duck." AC is the intellectual of the group, a graduate student with a green card who loves the freedoms of America and at the same time rails against cultural stereotypes. Chuck, who takes a job after graduation as a Wall Street investment banker, seems to be on his way to becoming an immigrant success story. But he gets laid off in July 2001, and in a strange professional leap links up with the owner-operator of a medallion cab who's looking for a fellow Pakistani to split the work week. Driving a taxi suits Chuck fine, until 9/11 changes the perceptions of him and his pals. "We fancied ourselves boulevardiers, raconteurs, renaissance men," he says; now for the first time they become outsiders. Following an anonymous tip about "suspicious activity," police arrest all three men and then claim to have discovered "bomb-making manuals" in AC's apartment. Chuck isn't even allowed to make his phone call from prison; he's not a citizen and thus has no rights. "Although I'd been listening to N.W.A. since I was a teenager," he bitterly comments, "it was the first time Iunderstood where they were coming from." He's released after 48 hours, but becomes more disenchanted, less exuberant, and eventually decides to return to his homeland. A breezy, thoughtful and witty novel about the immigrant experience.

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Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.74(w) x 8.54(h) x 1.00(d)

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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.

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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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