American Dervish

American Dervish

by Ayad Akhtar

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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 readers long after they turn the last page.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316183307
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 09/04/2012
Pages: 356
Sales rank: 259,065
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue: 1990

The court glowed, its wooden surface a golden, honey-brown beneath the overhead lights. Along the edges, players were hunched with their coaches, and beyond, we were gathered, the clamoring rows upon rows of us, eager for the timeout to end.

I remember it all with a clarion vividness that marks the moment as the watershed it would be:

Below, I spied the vendor approaching: a burly man, thick around the waist, with a crimson-brown pony-tail dropping from beneath the back of his black and orange cap, our school colors: "Brats and wieners!" he cried. "Brats and wieners!"

I nodded, raising my hand. He nodded back, stopping three rows down to serve another customer first. I turned to my friends and asked them if they wanted anything.

Beer and bratwurst, each of them said.

"I don't think he's got beer, guys," I replied.

Out on the court, the players were returning to their positions for the last minute of the half. The crowd was getting to its feet.

Below, the vendor made change, then lifted the metal box to his waist and mounted the steps to settle at the edge of our row:

"You have beer?" one of my friends asked.

"Just brats and wieners."

"So two bratwurst and a beef dog," I said.

With a clipped nod, he tossed open the cover of his box and reached inside. I waved away my friends' bills, pulling out my wallet. The vendor handed me three, shiny packets, soft and warm to the touch.

"Beef wiener's on top. That's nine altogether."

I handed off the brats, and paid.

Cheers erupted as our side raced down the court, driving to the basket. I unwrapped my packet only to find I wasn't holding a beef frank, but a marbled, brown-and-white pork bratwurst.

"Guys? Anyone have the beef dog?" I shouted over the crowd's noise at my friends.

Both shook their heads. They were holding bratwurst as well.

I turned back to the aisle to call out to the vendor when I stopped. What reason did I have anymore not to eat it?

None at all, I thought.

We drove to the basket again, where we were fouled. When the whistle shrieked, the roar was deafening.

I lifted the sausage to my mouth, closed my eyes, and took a bite. My heart raced as I chewed, my mouth filling with a sweet and smoky, lightly-pungent taste that seemed utterly remarkable—(perhaps all the more so for having been so long forbidden). I felt at once brave and ridiculous. And as I swallowed, an eerie stillness came over me.

I looked up at the ceiling.

It was still there. Not an inch closer to falling in.

After the game, I walked along the campus quad alone, the walkway's lamps glowing in the mist, white blossoms on a balmy November night. The wet air swirled and blew. I felt alive as I moved. Free along my limbs. Even giddy.

Back at the dorm, I stood before the bathroom mirror. My shoulders looked different. Not huddled, but open. Unburdened. My eyes drew my gaze, and there I saw what I was feeling: something quiet, strong, still.

I felt like I was complete.

*

I slept soundly that night, held in restful sleep like a baby in a mother's loving arms. When I finally heard my alarm, it was a quarter of nine. The room was awash in sunlight. It was Thursday, which meant I had Professor Edelstein's Survey of Islamic History in fifteen minutes. As I slipped into my jeans, I was startled by the bright prickle of new denim against my skin. The previous night's wonders were apparently still unfolding.

Outside, it was another unseasonably warm and windy day. After hurrying over to the student Union for a cup of tea, I rushed to Schirmer Hall, Quran tucked under my arm, spilling hot water as I ran. I didn't like being late for Edelstein's class. I needed to be certain I would find a place near the back—close to the window he kept cracked—where I would have the space quietly to reel and contemplate as the diminutive, magnetic Edelstein continued to take his weekly sledgehammer to what still remained of my childhood faith. And there was something else that kept me in the back of the room:

It was where Rachel sat.

Professor Edelstein looked fresh and formal in a variation on his usual pastel medley: an impeccably-pressed, mauve oxford, topped and tightened at the neck by a rose-pink bow-tie, and suspenders matching the auburn shade of newly polished penny-loafers.

He greeted me with a warm smile as I entered. "Hey, Hayat."

"Hi, Professor."

I wove my way through the desks to the corner where I usually sat, and where lovely Rachel was munching on a cookie.

"Hey."

"Hey there."

"How was the game?"

"Good."

She nodded, the corners of her lips curling coyly upward as she held my gaze. It was looks like this—her bright, blue eyes sparkling—that had made me hazard the invitation to the game the night prior. I'd been wanting to ask her out on a date all semester. But when I'd finally gotten up the courage, she'd told me she had to study.

"You want some?" she asked. "It's oatmeal-raisin."

"Sure."

She broke off a piece and handed it to me: "You do the reading for today?" she asked.

"Didn't need to."

"Why not?"

"I already know the chapters he wanted us to read...by heart."

"You do?" Rachel's eyes widened with surprise.

"I grew up memorizing that stuff," I explained. "It's a whole production some Muslim kids go through. You memorize the Quran... - They call it being a hafiz."

"Really?" She was impressed.

I shrugged: "Not that I remember much of it anymore. But happen to remember the chapters he assigned for today..."

At the front of the class, Edelstein started to speak: "I trust you've all done your reading," he began. "It's not ground we're going to cover today, but it's obviously important material. I'd like you guys to keep moving. The Quran can be slow going, and the more of it we get through this semester, the better." He paused and arranged the papers gathered before him. Rachel offered me the rest of her oatmeal cookie with a whisper: "Wanna finish?"

"Absolutely," I said, taking it.

"Today, I'd like to share some of the recent work a couple of my colleagues in Germany are doing. I wasn't able to offer you any readings on their work, because it's very much happening right now. It's at the very forefront of Islamic scholarship..." Edelstein paused again, now making eye-contact with the Muslim-born students in the class—there were three of us—and added cautiously: "...and what I have to share may come as a shock to some of you."

So began his lecture on the Sanaa manuscripts.

In 1972, while restoring an ancient mosque in Sanaa, Yemen, a group of workers busy overhauling the original roof found a stash of parchments and damaged books buried in the rafters. It was a grave of sorts, the kind that Muslims—forbidden from burning the Quran—use to respectfully discard damaged or worn-out copies of the holy book. The workers packed the manuscripts into potato sacks, and they were locked away until one of Edelstein's close friends—a colleague—was approached some seven years later to take a look at the documents. What he discovered was unprecedented: The parchment pages dated back to Islam's first two centuries, they were fragments of the oldest Qurans in existence. What was shocking, Edelstein told us, was that there were aberrations and deviations from the standard Quran that Muslims had been using for more than a thousand years. In short, Edelstein claimed, his German colleague was about to show the world that the bedrock Muslim belief in the Quran as the direct, unchanged, eternal word of God was a fiction; Muslims weren't going to be spared the fate Christians and Jews had over the past three centuries of scholarship: the Quran, like the Bible, would prove to be the historical document common-sense dictated it had to be.

Up in the front row, one of the students—Ahmad, a Muslim—interrupted Edelstein's lecture, raising his hand angrily.

Edelstein paused. "Yes, Ahmad?"

"Why has your friend not published his findings yet?" Ahmad barked.

Edelstein held Ahmad's gaze for a moment before replying. And when he did, his tone was conciliatory: "My colleague is concerned about continued access to the texts if they were to make these findings known to the Yemeni authorities. They're preparing a series of articles, but are ensuring that they've had enough time to go through all 14,000 pages carefully, just in case they never get to see the documents again."

Now Ahmad's voice bellowed, red and bitter: "And why exactly would they be barred from seeing them again?"

There was silence. The classroom was thick with tension.

"There's no need to get upset, Ahmad. We can talk about this like scholars..."

"Scholars! What scholars make claims without documented findings? Huh?!?"

"I understand this is some controversial stuff... - but there's no need - "

Ahmad cut him off: "It's not controversial, Pro-fess-or," he said, spitting the middle syllable back at Edelstein with disgust. "It's incendiary." Ahmad bolted up from his desk, books in hand: "In-sult-ing and in-cen-diary!" he shouted. After a look to Sahar—the usually-reticent, Malaysian girl sitting to his left, her head lowered as she doodled tensely on her pad—and then another look, back at me, Ahmad stormed out of the room.

"Anyone else want to leave?" Edelstein asked, clearly affected. After a short pause, Sahar quietly gathered her things, got up, and walked out.

"That leaves you, Hayat."

"Nothing to worry about, Professor. I'm a true-and-tried Mutazalite."

Edelstein's face brightened with a smile: "Bless your heart."


*

After class, I stood and stretched, surprised again at how alive I felt. Nimble and awake, even along my limbs.

"Where you headed?" Rachel asked.

"To the Union."

"Wanna walk? I'm going to library."

"Sure," I said.

Outside, as we strolled beneath the shedding linden trees that lined the path to library, Rachel remarked how surprised she was at Ahmad and Sahar walking out.

"Don't be," I said. "Saying less than that could get you killed in some circles." She looked surprised. "Look at Rushdie," I said. The fatwa was still only a year old, an event still fresh in everyone's mind.

Rachel shook her head: "I don't understand these things... So what did you mean by what you said to Edelstein?"

"About being a Mutazalite?"

"Yeah."

"A school of Muslims that don't believe in the Quran as the eternal word of God. But I was joking. I'm not a Mutazalite. They died off a thousand years ago."

She nodded. We walked a few paces in silence, and then she asked: "How did you feel about the lecture?"

"What's to feel? The truth is the truth. Better to know it than not to."

"Absolutely..." she said, studying me: "...but it doesn't mean you can't have feelings about it, right?" Her question was softly put. There was tenderness in it.

"Honestly? It makes me feel free."

She nodded. And we walked awhile in silence.

"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" I finally asked.

"That depends."

"On?"

"What you want to know."

"Did you really have to study last night, or were you just saying that?"

Rachel laughed, her lips parting to reveal her small square teeth. She really was lovely. "I have an organic chemistry exam tomorrow, I told you that. That's why I'm going to the library now." She stopped and put her hand on my arm: "But I promise I'll go with you to the next game... - Okay?"

My heart surged with sudden joy. "Okay," I said with a cough.

When we got to the library's steps, I had the urge to tell her what had happened to me last night. "Can I ask you another personal question?"

"Shoot."

"Do you believe in God?"

For a moment, Rachel looked startled. And then she shrugged. "No. At least not the guy-in-the-sky type thing."

"Since when?"

"Since ever, I guess. My mom was an atheist, so I don't think I ever took it that seriously. I mean my dad made us go to temple sometimes - Rosh Hashanah and stuff... - but even then, my mom would spend the whole way there and back complaining."

"So you don't know what it's like to lose your faith."

"Not really."

I nodded. "It's freeing. So freeing. It's the most freeing thing that's ever happened to me... - You asked me how I feel about the lecture? Hearing Edelstein talk about the Quran as just a book, a book like any other, makes me feel like going out to celebrate."

"Sounds like fun," she said, smiling again. "If you wait 'til tomorrow, we can celebrate together..."

"Sounds like a plan."

Rachel lingered on the step above me just long enough for the thought to occur. And when it did, I didn't question it. I leaned in and touched my lips to hers.

Her mouth pressed against mine. I felt her hand against the back of my head, the tip of her tongue gently grazing the tip of my own.

All at once, she pulled away. She turned and hopped up the steps, then stopped at the door and shot me a quick look. "Wish me luck on my exam," she said.

"Good luck," I said.

When she was gone, I lingered, in a daze, barely able to believe my good fortune.

*

That night, after a day of classes and an evening of ping-pong at the Union, I was sitting in bed, trying to study, but thinking only of Rachel...when the phone rang. It was Mother.

"Behta, she's gone."

I was quiet. I knew, of course, who she was talking about. A month earlier she and I had gone to Kansas City to visit Mina—not only my Mother's life-long best-friend, but the person who'd had, perhaps, the greatest influence on my life—as she lay in a hospital bed, her insides ravaged with cancer.

"Did you hear me, Hayat?" Mother said.

"It's probably better, isn't it, Mom? I mean she's not in pain anymore."

"But she's gone, Hayat," Mother moaned. "She's gone..."

I listened quietly as she cried. And then I consoled her.

Mother didn't ask me that night how I felt about Mina's passing, which was just as well. I probably wouldn't have told her what I was really feeling. Even the confession I had made to Mina while she lay on what would turn out to be her death bed, even that hadn't been enough to assuage the guilt I'd been carrying since I was twelve. If I was reluctant to share how aggrieved I was with my mother, it was because my grief was not only for Mina, but for myself as well.

Now that she was gone, how could I ever repair the harm I'd done?

*

The following evening, Rachel and I sat side by side at the pizzeria counter, our dinner before a movie. I didn't tell her about Mina, but somehow, she sensed something was wrong. She asked me if I was alright. I told her I was. She insisted. "You sure, Hayat?" she asked. She was looking at me with a tenderness I couldn't fathom. "Thought you wanted to celebrate," she said with a smile.

"Well... after I left you yesterday, I got some bad news."

"What?"

"My aunt died. She was like... a second mother to me."

"Oh God. I'm so sorry."

All at once, my throat was searing. I was on the verge of tears.

"Sorry," I said, looking away.

Feeling her hand on my arm, I heard her voice: "You don't have to talk about it..."

I looked back and nodded.

*

The movie was a comedy. It distracted me. Toward the end, Rachel pushed herself up against my side, and we held hands for awhile. Afterwards, she invited me back to her room, where she lit candles and sang me a song she'd written as she played the guitar. It was something longing and plaintive about lost love; she looked down at her hands as she played and sang. Only three days ago, I couldn't have imagined myself being so lucky. And yet I couldn't push away thoughts of Mina.

When Rachel finished her song, she looked up at me.

"That was great," I said.

"Still thinking about your Aunt, aren't you?"

"Is it that obvious?"

She shrugged and smiled. "It's okay," she said, setting her guitar aside. "My grandma was really important to me like that. I went through a lot went she died."

"But the thing is, it's not just that she died...it's that I had something to do with it." I didn't even realize I'd said it until I was almost finished with the sentence.

Rachel looked at me, puzzled, folds appearing along her forehead, between her eyes.

"What happened?" she asked.

"You don't know me very well... - I mean, of course you don't. It's just... - I don't think you realize how I grew up."

"I'm not following you, Hayat."

"You're Jewish, right?"

"Yeah? So?"

"You may not like me very much if I tell you what happened..."

She shifted in her place, her back straightening. She looked away.

You barely know her. I thought. What are you trying to prove?

"Maybe I should leave," I said.

She didn't reply.

I didn't move. The fact was, I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay. I wanted to tell her.

We sat in silence for a long moment, and then Rachel reached out to touch my hand.

"Tell me," she said.

What People are Saying About This

William Green

A riveting and disturbing tale.... The power of this unsettling novel lies in Akhtar's refusal to simplify such contradictions.

Interviews

A Conversation with Ayad Akhtar
Why the title American Dervish? To most, a dervish connotes someone who spins their way to ecstatic union with God.
In the Islamic tradition, a dervish is an ascetic renunciate, one who is laboring to be shorn of his or her attachments. There are dervishes who whirl, others who chant, and still others who deprive themselves of nourishment and comfort for the sake of the denuded state which is the precursor to union with the divine source. The ostensible dervish in the novel is, of course, Mina, who despite her tragic circumstances does indeed seem to be experiencing a kind of perpetual ecstasy of the everyday by the book's end. But it's debatable whether she is, in fact, the American Dervish. That, to my mind, would more likely be Hayat himself, whose journey sheds him of the obstacles that have kept him from his own heart, and whose story ends with a moment of quiet ecstatic grace. He has to lose all his ideas about God and faith and Islam in order to experience that deepening of the heart that the Sufis identify as the result of closeness to the divine source.
How does your background as a screenwriter, playwright, and actor inform your fiction?
Fiction has always been my first love. I'd been writing short stories for years, and I have written another novel, which I shelved without ever trying to get published. That said, I think the acting process has deepened my understanding of creative process, and has given me techniques to identify and empathize, to immerse myself in psyches that are not my own. The same holds true for playwriting as well, in that acting has helped me to be inside the characters I write. But the truth is, writing plays is very different than writing fiction. In a play, everything has to be revealed through dialogue, and this presents its own challenges. From a formal point of view, it's really my work as a screenwriter that is most responsible for the shape and feel of Dervish. I approached the story structurally as if it were a film in the form of a book, ordered around set pieces, and unfolding in a sequence of vividly realized scenes. I wanted the reader to have a visceral immediate relationship to the main characters in the story, a being-with-ness that is usually associated with movies.
You chose a 10-year-old boy to narrate American Dervish. What were the advantages and disadvantages of having someone so young tell the story?
The trick with American Dervish was not to be limited to the ten year-old boy's consciousness as a narrator. Indeed, the truth is that the narration is actually set up as a reminiscence. This was the choice I made so that I would have the latitude to tease out subtleties and illuminate context in a way that was more ample than Hayat's limited ten year-old perspective would have allowed. But I had to do this without betraying the eternal now of the ten year-old's experience, as that forms the bulk of the story. Folding both parts of this dual voice into an undivided flow was, for me, the biggest challenge of the book. It took me the better part of three years to work this out fully.
What inspired you to combine study of the Quran with Hayat's family story?
American literature is filled with Biblical allusions, from Melville to Faulkner and Hemingway to Toni Morrison. Whatever else the Bible may or may not be, it is certainly the formational text of the Western literary tradition. Similarly, telling the story of a Muslim in America in literary form necessitated a familiarity with the Quran as the basis for the Muslim experience. As a Muslim-American writer, my task was two-fold: both to introduce these Quranic narratives and tropes to the American reader, and also to play off of these stories and locutions in evocative ways.
Further, the novel is an attempt to liberate the more heartfelt metaphorical version of religious experience from the literalist dogma of the orthodoxy. As such, the Quran has two faces: One that transcends its cultural specificity and evokes deeper, universal truths, and another that is bound by its origins, and which serves as a restrictive, atavistic force. I wanted to dramatize the tension between these two points of view. This is the real conflict of the novel.
Who have you discovered lately?
I have recently discovered Percy Shelley! I have been slowly making my way through his collected poems, a journey accompanied by immersion in Richard Holmes' magisterial biography of the poet, Shelley: A Pursuit. I can't remember a time I have felt so transformed by my daily reading. I've also been immersed in the work of Harold Pinter. Rediscovering these plays that had such an impact on me as a young man, and seeing just how deft, evocative, and masterful his craft really is.

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American Dervish 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 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.
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
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with other writers that it was easy to read but the resonances that follow are very disturbing. It gets to the confusion of coming of age and sorting out religion, family and conflicts between culture. But it falls into the worst clichés - killing off the one interesting and true character - Mina who the book centers around through a senseless sacrifice The other decent character with insight and intelligence, the father is let off as a drunk and womanizer. The mother is the worst cartoon of Muslim hysteric. But in the center of all of this nonsense is a self-hate of being Muslim and the other low and terrible cliché of the suffering Jew ad fool in the pitiful Nathan. This book does a great disservice to both Muslim and Jewish Americans. Muslims are shown to be ignorant wife beaters and Jewish Americans as long suffering losers and victims. This is a lazy writer uses these tired old tropes (La Traviata meets Blue Beard) and produces a picture of a self-indulgent unlikable, and young man who ties up the havoc he has caused in a maudlin scene at the end where Nathan declares his true love for Mina, a little too late and pathetic.
kiwifortyniner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A look at the lives of Muslims in America told from the point of view of a 12 year old boy. A coming of age story I did not like it very much. Did not find the plot very interesting.
sparemethecensor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked this up from the library on a whim, and I'm grateful I did -- I absolutely loved it. Well-written and engaging, funny in parts, tragic in parts, and emotionally affecting throughout. This is the coming-of-age tale of Hayat, a boy of Pakistani descent growing up in the Midwest. His parents are not particularly devout Muslims, but their faith plays a huge role in his development. I liked Hayat's voice in the story, and I was on the edge of my seat to see what would happen next for him, his parents, and his "auntie" Mina. Every sentence of this story rang true to me, both Hayat as a child and as a young adult. I loved the uncomfortable clash of Pakistani and American cultures in his household and in his own mind. Other reviews have mentioned that this isn't for the faint of heart, since there are plenty of dark, unpleasant scenes, some violence, and the use of racial epithets. But it is utterly real. Ayad Akhtar has done a phenomenal job of showing us the world of the Pakistani-American boy looking to find his place between two cultures. I loved this book.
BrokenTeepee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent book. As a coming of age tale of a young Muslim boy (Hayat) it tells the story of a first crush and that boy's learning about love. His parents' marriage is shaky at best and his mother talks to him about the most inappropriate things; he is only 12 and yet she shares with him of her husband's affairs. The household is refreshed when Mina enters - Mina is Hayat's mothers dearest friend from Pakistan. She is escaping an abusive father and an embarrassing divorce. She brings a breath of fresh air into Hayat's life and he promptly falls in love with all of his 12 year old heart.If one reads deeper though, this is a tale of the harm that untutored religious zeal and child neglect can cause a family. Not child neglect in failing to feed and clothe but child neglect in failing to nurture, teach and keep from children that which they are too young to know. Add in some harsh religious stricture with no balance and a young brain can come to some very dangerous conclusions.It was a book I found hard to put down and I read it over the course of two days. The writing is compelling, the characters fascinating and the story universal. Love and regret are found no matter the race or religion. Not to mention the sacrifices a woman will make for the sake of a child. A truly fascinating look into a lifestyle so very different in some ways and yet so very similar in others to our own.
markon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was initially intrigued by the jacket photo of a boy riding a bicycle looking back over his shoulder. On its face, American Dervish is simply another coming of age novel. And the photo? A bicycle doesn¿t play a role in the story. But looking back over his shoulder, Hyatt tells the story of his early adolescence, the (unacknowledged) crush he has on his mother¿s best friend Mina, the complicated role religion plays in his life, and the foolish action his crush leads him to take, with results that don¿t work out the way he hoped.The setting, the immigrant Pakistani community in Wisconsin, is autobiographical. I¿m curious to see how this writer with theater and film training develops. A good first effort - 3.2 stars.
spotteddog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very interesting and enjoyable "coming of age" story told from the perspective of a 12 year old American Muslim boy. A little heavy on passages from the Koran, but still a good read.
autumnblues on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An eye opening look into the Quran mindset of American Muslim families. This is a truly fascinating fictional account of the life of a Pakistani family living in America portrayed through the eyes of a young boy Hayat Shah. Hayat's family seems split in two as his mother's interest to be part of the local Muslim community are not the same interests of her husband. Hayat struggles as a go-between to his parents as his mother clings to hope that her husband will change his womanizing ways while making it clear to her son what her father is doing to her. Feeling lonely, Hayat's mother constantly turns to her son for support, many times sharing her disgust and anguish with her son. Hayat's father is a analytical strong-willed physician who has decided being a Muslim is something he wants no part of and in doing so becomes an outcast amongst the Muslim men in his community. Not long into the book, Hayat's mothers best friend Mina, shows up with her young son to live with his family in America. After her marriage, Mina had been physically and mentally abused by her mother-in-law and her husband in her native land. She was then outcast and divorced by her husband due to being too outspoken. After just giving birth the divorce papers arrive at her hospital bedside. What she reads shocks her. Her divorce decree declares that when her son turns 7 he will be taken from her and her husband would be given full custody. How convenient this law is to the men of this country, yet this is mild compared to what can happen to these women. This is how the rulers of these countries in the Middle East twist their laws with Islam to mentally abuse not only the women but also their own children. Hayat's mother turns to her friend for help with the only solution she knows of, which is to get her out of Pakistan and bring her to the United States for good.Although written as fiction, one can see and feel this story is based totally on truth. This novel moves the reader to learn more about these families that come to America pursuing a better life and fleeing Sharia laws. The author Akhtar expresses to the reader the lives and mindsets of those that come to the East yet continue to follow and believe in the Quran. Although I certainly feel each reader needs to form his own opinion about what is written in this book. It is quite disturbing how the Muslim religion brainwashes people to believe these ridiculous ideologies. We all know that every culture has their own traditions, customs and religions. However, when those beliefs are sowed from hate, bigotry and evil I feel it is best to ask the one and true God for help to move on and away from this mindset. One example in this story is the torture and abuse that Mina suffers in order to remain attached to these Muslim beliefs. This is true and real life for many women in the Muslim society and worse for those who live amongst Sharia law. These women are brought up to believe they are worthless and are owned by their parents, later to be sold in marriage as if they were a piece of property. The men are then taught by the religion and their parents that they have a right to control and abuse these women. Why once in the United States, these Muslims who move here for a better life, away from their country and Sharia law, continue to read and follow the evil in the Quran is quite confusing. I can tell you right now, don't let anyone that has a belief in that book, they call holy, let you believe it otherwise, that book is not holy. I have studied and learned that the Quran was given to Mohammad by the devil himself. Imagine Charles Manson having visions and then writing a book, who all then believe to be true. This is the only comparison I need to make when it comes to speaking of the Quran. Yet the Muslim community continues to follow it as if it was the true word of God. That book that is filled with hate for those who live in the holy land of Israel and the Jewish community, plus other atrocities. God
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hayat Shah is just a fifth grader when he first meets his Aunt Mina, who has come with her son Imran from Pakistan to live with Hayat¿s family in Milwaukee. Hayat develops a crush on Mina and does whatever he can to earn her love and attention, including studying the Quran. His parents don¿t approve of his religious immersion, but the more diligent he is, the more Mina seems to respond positively to him. In fact, the whole family seems happier with Mina around, and Hayat¿s father sets her up with his colleague and best friend, Nathan Wolfson, who is Jewish. Nathan is ready to convert for Mina until he is exposed to the anti-Semitism of the mosque. Furthermore, Hayat, acting out of jealousy, takes some irrevocable steps to sabotage the relationship. The result is worse than he anticipated, and nothing short of catastrophic.Discussion: The whole of the book seems to be a confession by Hayat about how he hurt his beloved Aunt Mina with his use of the Quran to wreak havoc on her romance with Nathan. But by the end of the book, I did not get any sense that he understood why what he did was wrong beyond hurting his aunt. That is, he doesn¿t seem to have gained insight into the complexity of the Quran and the pitfalls of reading portions of it out of context; nor does he seem to have any awareness of the 7th Century sociopolitical atmosphere that led to conflicts between Muhammad and other traders and thus informed the Quran. Moreover, he shows no insight into how contemporary politics also affect interpretation of the teachings of Muhammad by the imams in the mosques. Finally, in spite of numerous instances of Hayat being confronted by hypocrisy by adherents of Islam, he never reflects upon what this might mean. In summary, Hayat shows no insight over anything; there is only regret that his scheming turned out worse than he hoped it would.To me, it seemed like the author was giving Hayat redemption for confessing. That felt shallow to me, and not enough justification for reading through the whole story; I would have been more satisfied from redemption through some self-awareness.Evaluation: This book provides an interesting look at the life of Muslims in America, but the plot was ultimately unsatisfying to me.
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. 
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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
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