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American Dervish: A Novel Hardcover – January 9, 2012
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"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Pre-order today
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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 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.
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But there are also dervishes who chant, and those who renounce all earthly pleasures - ascetics who seek to abnegate any sense of selfhood, and who aspire to make themselves indistinguishable from the dust in the ground. This spiritual stance and world view is the polar opposite of the American cult of personality and individualism. In this novel, two characters demonstrate aspects of dervish behavior, the protagonist, Hayat, and his enchanting young aunt, Mina. Does Mina allow herself to be ground into dust, or is she fulfilling her destiny or her choices in life?
It is clear from this novel, from "Disgraced," and from interviews that the author has granted that he struggles with coming to grips with aspects of traditional fundamentalist Muslim doctrine that he sees as atavistic, misogynistic and paternalistic. His intellectual journey reminds me of that of Roger L. Martin of the University of Toronto, in his seminal work ""Opposable Mind." The author rejects false dichotomies, and posits that the best leaders and the best thinkers do not settle for imperfect Choice A vs. imperfect Choice B, but dig deeper to discover an integrative less imperfect Choice C or beyond. In this sense, Hayat's journey, and that of Mr. Akhtar, represent a form of Hegelian dialectic, moving from the thesis of fundamentalism to the antithesis of atheism to the synthesis of some form of reasoned spirituality. During the journeys that Hayat and Mina take, the author treats issues of Anti-semitism, the paternalistic roots of the three Abrahamic faiths, the role of women in Islam and in America, the many routes one may choose on the way to self-discovery, the sacrifices one may choose to make to protect those we love.
It is the default setting of this provocative author not to offer facile answers, but to pose "a more beautiful question" that causes the reader to pause, to consider, to ruminate, and to begin to see things in a new light.
I am off to order another one of Mr. Akhtar's thrilling works of art.
As for the book itself, I really enjoyed it. The writing is good, but occasionally a little unsubtle. It read fast. The author says it was cut to about half its original length, and I suspect that editing helped a lot. I really got the sense that I learned something of the Muslim experience in a thoughtful young man. The book was also a coming of age tale. It reminded me of my own youth in some ways, in a Christian tradition, and led me to reflect on the development of sexuality and religious fervor, and how the two may be connected. And it made me think of the development of fanaticism, something many adolescents may dabble with, though most do not adopt for long. Overall, I think it is an enjoyable read, which also touches on some very important topics.
Review: Talk about a book you can relate to! Well if you are a Muslim, Desi and American ;) But even if you are not, the themes and characters of this book will appeal to everyone.
Being an 11 year old boy is hard enough. But add to that the confusion of being the child of an immigrant, it becomes nearly impossible to live your life without scars. The author weaves a beautiful story about growing up in the U.S. where the messages you receive are confusing. Many times we see Hayat confused by the complex adult behaviors and his own cloudy feelings. We can feel his ignorance about the world as if it were our own. What we are, who we are, all of it comes into question no matter the character.
Although the POV of is from Hayat, since he was an observant and quiet child, we could see other people's thoughts and viewpoints also. Each character was crafted with care, and no one was without faults or merits. His cheating drunk father hated the hypocrisy of his fellow immigrants, his nagging mom was open-hearted, and his intellectual and smart aunt was fighting a system she was too weak to be in. It is about each person's identity and how it fits in the world they live in. Putting the square peg in the round slot.
No idea or thought was without its strengths and weaknesses. We see both the positives and negatives of Islam, America, Culture values, and family. What it means to be a women and a lover of women is complicated further. What is communication? What is family?
While I enjoyed Akhtar's storytelling, There were times where he jumped from idea to idea. He will be telling us a story, and then we will jump to an unrelated, profound though. I think things fell through the cracks because the flow would be broken. Also, I felt he could have pushed more out of his characters. I think he could have highlighted more of Mina's convictions, his parents' strengths, and Nate's anger.
Still, my problems were negligible compared to the overall story. If you can accept your viewpoints challenged, American Dervish is a compelling read. Be prepared to read about how to learn oneself regardless of the messages everyone tries to throw at you.
Sex: Nothing vulgar, but bold and not for children.
Violence: Domestic Violence we see and don't see.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Quote: It's because you're different. You can't live life by rules others give you. In that way, you and I are the same. You have to find your own rules. All my life I've been running away from their rules, Hayat. All my life. You will be the same.