American Dervish: A Novel Hardcover – Jan 9 2012
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"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
"Akhtar's graceful and moving novel is a story most immigrants can relate to, regardless of background, but resonates particularly with first generation Muslim-Americans who, in this interconnected world, struggle daily with both a clash of cultures and (today) a deep suspicion of, if not prejudice against the faith of their forefathers. But apart from that, it is a wonderful story of coming to terms with who one is, and who society expects one to be--and absolutely everyone can relate to that."―Hooman Majd, author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ and The Ayatollahs' Democracy
"A compelling debut with a family drama centered on questions of religious and ethnic identity.... 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.... 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.... [The story's] 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."―Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"The young teen's personal story about growing up in Muslim America is both particular and universal, with intense connections of faith, sorrow, tenderness, anger, betrayal, questioning, and love."―Hazel Rochman, Booklist
"AMERICAN DERVISH opens with an epigram from the Hadith Qudsi (sacred sayings of Muhammad): "And Allah said: I am with the ones whose hearts are torn." A fitting quote for this moving, insightful story about religion and family, immigration and assimilation, wherein hearts are numbed, warmed and broken. Faith and love are found, lost and re-formed as the narrator, Hayat Shah, travels a jagged road through the early years of adolescence with all its confusions and dramatic certainties.... Ayad Akhtar's explorations into the tension between the universal truths of religion and literal readings of its documents plays out effectively in AMERICAN DERVISH, his debut novel. Already a master of scene and dialogue, and evocative prose, he's created a compelling and visceral story. When Mina teaches Hayat to listen to the still small voice within that can only be heard by finding the silence at the end of a breath, Hayat tries, and discovers what will continue to inspire him to find the still, small voice hidden between and beneath each breath, and, with it, wisdom and insight."―Marilyn Dahl, Shelf Awareness
"Loss of innocence-sexual, of course, but also cultural and religious-is the subject of Ayad Akhtar's poignant AMERICAN DERVISH, set in a Muslim-American community in the early 1980s.... With characters full of contradictions and complexity, this debut novel is refreshing for its lack of the political and religious hand-wringing so common in the post-9/11 world. But it's also resonantly familiar in its depiction of youthful obsession and the desire to belong."―Sara Nelson, O, the Oprah Magazine
"AMERICAN DERVISH is an intelligent, courageously honest book about religion that never bogs down in dogma, proscriptions, or easy answers. The characters are memorable and alive, most of all the narrator's fierce, tough-minded mother and gorgeous, tragically principled "auntie," who in different ways help the young narrator on his difficult path of doubt, faith, and, hopefully, happiness. The story is as stirring and thought-provoking as it is compulsively page-turning."―Kate Christensen, author of The Astral and The Great Man
"[A] heartfelt first novel.... Akhtar himself is the son of Pakistani immigrants who settled in Wisconsin, and his knowing take on the complexities of that particular experience feels fresh.... The book's central tension between secularism and religiosity obviously has broader significance, and Akhtar explores these issues with admirable nuance.... Akhtar's characters drive a story that's compelling and believable even at its most alien. AMERICAN DERVISH offers a rich look at a nearby world that many Americans don't know nearly enough about."―Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly
"What a pleasure to encounter a first novel as self-assured and effortlessly told as Ayad Akhtar's AMERICAN DERVISH. Mr. Akhtar, a first-generation Pakistani-American, has written an immensely entertaining coming-of-age story set during the early 1980s among the Pakistanis in the author's hometown, Milwaukee.... Mr. Akhtar's astute observations of the clashes between old world and new, between secular and sacred, among immigrants might seem familiar to readers of both contemporary and classic literature.... But what distinguishes Mr. Akhtar's novel is its generosity and its willingness to embrace the contradictions of its memorably idiosyncratic characters and the society they inhabit.... Mr. Akhtar is particularly adept at depicting the tensions between Jews and Muslims in pre-Sept. 11 America.... Yet for all the rage and satire contained within its pages, Mr. Akhtar's novel is far from an antireligious screed in the tradition of Christopher Hitchens. It is instead admirably restrained, deeply appreciative of some aspects of Islam and ultimately far more interested in raising provocative questions than in definitively answering them.... [A] charming debut."―Adam Langer, New York Times
"Akhtar dazzles with his debut novel about a Muslim family in pre-9/11 America.... Ambitious but accessible, playwright Akhtar's engaging first novel tells a particularly fresh and touching coming-of-age story that illuminates the everyday lives of Muslims in America and brings new resonance to universal questions of belief and belonging." 3-1/2 stars―Helen Rogan, People
"[An] astutely observed novel.... Akhtar, a promising young playwright publishing his debut novel, embraces the contradictions - spiritual, sexual, cultural - of growing up Muslim in America in AMERICAN DERVISH. Hayat's story of betrayal comprises the meat of the novel, which will leave a hole in the heart of the biggest sinner. Whether you are Muslim, Jewish or Christian, this coming-of-age tale hits home.... Intelligently written, emotionally charged, AMERICAN DERVISH is a loss-of-innocence tale that will leave readers pondering the state of their own faith.... it's likely that Akhtar's novel will be on many 2012 best-books lists, including that of the Express-News."―Steve Bennett, San Antonio Express News
"Ayad Akhtar's wonderful first novel tells a quintessentially American coming-of-age story: The child of immigrants struggles to find a place in his life for the traditions and beliefs of his ancestral homeland in a new world of broader possibilities that are both enticing and threatening. Although the main narrative unfolds in the early 1980s, it speaks to issues that collectively preoccupy us even more today... AMERICAN DERVISH so richly depicts a wide variety of humanly inconsistent and fallible characters that it feels reductive to call it a Muslim American novel, yet it is impossible to call it anything else because it is steeped in the tenets of Islam and a fierce debate over their deepest meaning.... Akhtar's complicated, conflicted characters are not helpless victims; they make irrevocable mistakes and do dreadful things, but Akhtar encourages us to understand and forgive.... The vivid particulars of [Hayat's] spiritual quest and emotional confusion embody universal experiences: growing up, learning to accept the faults of those you love (and your own), achieving an identity nourished by your roots but shaped by your individual needs and aspirations. Akhtar's poignant and wise debut announces the arrival of a generous new voice in American fiction."―Wendy Smith, The Washington Post
"AMERICAN DERVISH is set to become The Help of 2012."
―Beth Kephart, The Chicago Tribune
In this remarkably self-assured, infectiously readable debut novel, Ayad Akhtar beams readers directly inside Hayat's young mind. His growing love for Mina - as his revered "auntie,'' focus of his budding sexual interest, and teacher of Islam through nightly Koran readings - feels sweet yet fraught. After listening to her read these lyrical holy verses, Hayat floats back to his room "my heart softened and sweet, my senses heightened.'' Of course it's headed toward disaster, but Akhtar lets the ensuring calamities unfold without melodrama. Along the way, Hayat learns that his beloved adults' worst flaws sometimes coincide with what is most lovable and laudable about them, and that faith, mystery, and love have less to do with any religious text than with the human heart.―Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe
"Akhtar is a well-experienced, wonderful writer who approaches a difficult subject confidently and without any pretense.... AMERICAN DERVISH is one of those rare (and, at times, uncomfortable) books that deserves a literary award."―Melissa Smith, Book Reporter
"AMERICAN DERVISH is a strong candidate for the title of the Great Muslim American Novel."―Mark Athitaki, AARP.com
"[D]isturbing, complex and....fascinating... AMERICAN DERVISH is nuanced and full of surprises, conveying the dilemmas many people - not just Muslims - face when they immigrate to the United States."―Repps Hudson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"The Muslim American novel has arrived, and it is titled AMERICAN DERVISH. There have been other novels by and about Muslim Americans, but Ayad Akhtar's tale distinguishes itself from its predecessors....by probing controversial aspects of Islam alongside its sympathetic portrayal of one Muslim American boy's maturation. Akhtar has not only created a heartfelt and arresting story of a precocious but impressionable boy trying to navigate faith, folly, and family; he has provided an intellectually rigorous and unflinchingly conscientious examination of the fraught and much-manipulated subject of Muslim scripture."―Rayyan Al-Shawaf, The Brooklyn Rail
"[B]eautifully written..."―Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times
"A riveting and disturbing tale.... The power of this unsettling novel lies in Akhtar's refusal to simplify such contradictions."―William Green
"AMERICAN DERVISH describes the varied distractions of ecstasy, spiritual and physical."―Susan Salter Reynolds, Newsday
"DERVISH is a well-observed story about the fault lines that run through religions, families and communities."―Andy Lewis, The Hollywood Reporter
"Reading AMERICAN DERVISH is like wandering through an old city where each winding street leads to another you never guessed existed. Just when you think you've reached the end of town, you discover yet more twists and turns. Ayad Akhtar constructs an emotional maze layered with questions of faith, love, identity, individual choice and collective loyalty. All written in the simple words of a ten-year-old Pakistani-American boy."―Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity
"A triumph of a book. A courageous, deftly told story of finding and losing love, faith, and the false comforts of moral righteousness. Above all else, AMERICAN DERVISH is a laid-bare novel of the dark contradictions of the human heart."―Gregg Hurwitz, author of You're Next
"A pathos-filled coming-of-age narrative..."―Amelia Cook, The Daily Page (Isthmus)
"Timely and thought-provoking..."―Laura Hutson, Nashville Scene
"A screenwriter and playwright, Akhtar thinks visually, intuitively grasping the power of a well-arranged set piece.... The resulting conflicts make for some compelling scenes in which abstract ideas - alternative versions of Islam, the role of women and the meaning of tolerance - play out through the characters who embody them."―Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"By turns, beautiful, seductive, [and] dangerous.... Akhtar's characters are certainly built to carry the weight of melodrama. Hayat, Mina, Naveed, Muneer and Nathan are nuanced beings, as surprising, irritating and endearing as people in the real world. There's no pure good or pure evil in Akhtar's novel, just a whole lot of in between. And no matter how theatrical the story becomes, readers will stay until the end of the show."―Maggie Galehouse, The Houston Chronicle
"Ayad Akhtar's engaging first novel is about weighty matters: religion and politics and the troubled nexus in between. It's also a consideration of what it means to be ethnically "other" in America, a coming of age tale, and a story of guilt and redemption. It's a compulsively readable novel, one I consumed in big gulps, eager to see where this gifted storyteller would take his appealing cast of characters...Akhtar, an award-winning playwright, brings into sharp relief the conflicts between East and West, and at the same time dramatizes universal elements of our flawed humanity. In the novel's epilogue, Hayat hints that his own "wonderful and troubled interfaith romance" will be the source of "a tale for another time." I'll be among the first to order a copy."―Kathryn Lang, Dallas Morning News
"Haunting.... The time is right to explore the multifaceted Akhtar's work."―Agnes Torres Al-Shibibi, Seattle Times
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.
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In 1990, Hayat, from a Pakistani family, is in college. The death of his "aunt" Mina causes him to reflect on her story, and on events that occurred as he was growing up. It tells of his parents' less-than-happy marriage, and the different ways in which his parents shaped his views, as well as of Hamad's immersion in the Quran, with the resultant initial rigid set of beliefs that spur him to actions that he is ashamed of later in life.
Mina Ali is his mother Irshad's best friend from Pakistan. After an arranged marriage to a husband who allows his mother to abuse her, followed by a divorce when Mina is in the maternity ward, Irshad and Naveed (Hayat's father) persuade Mina's parents to allow her and her 2-year-old-son, Imran, to stay with them in America.
How do I describe this one without spoilers? As a reader who is always interested in other cultures, but especially fascinated by stories of other cultures living in America, this was a mind-opener. The parallels here between fundamentalist Christians and their strict, close-minded sets of beliefs and hard-line Muslims are equally full of intolerance.
Mina is a lovely, intelligent woman, and the choices she makes based on her religion are rather tragic in consequence.
Seeing how Hayat's beliefs were whittled and shaped reminds me of my own spiritual growth, and will likely remind you of your own.
I loved the characters and the story. I felt very invested in Mina, and her story is one that will resonate with you as well, dear reader.
The story of Nathan, Naveed's best friend and colleague, the son of a Holocaust survivor, is bittersweet.
There are injustices here, and adultery, and women whose potential is quashed. It is sad in places, hopeful in others, but very real and impactful.
I highly recommend it.
"Hayat, her intelligence has been the curse of her life. When a Muslim woman is too smart, she pays the price for it. And she pays the price not in money, behta, but in abuse."
"I know that you won't understand why I burned your Quran, but there was a reason. 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. Don't ask me how I know it, but I do."
"So what do I do? I ask her, like any normal person would, 'Why, Najat, does your husband beat you? Hmm?' "
Mother was absorbed in the moment, as if reliving it.
" 'Because we need it,' she says. 'Because it's something about our nature. Something that needs to know its limits.' My jaw hit the floor, Hayat. I looked at her and thought to myself, this is an insane asylum . . . "
Writing: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Characters: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion: 4.5 out 5 stars
BOOK RATING: 4.6 out of 5 stars
But we do. As readers we do like Hayat as he reveals the good, the bad, and the ugly of his story, which begins when his mother's best friend Mina departs from Pakistan and her controlling ex-husband with her small son. Hayat - at the cusp of adolescence - develops a serious crush on Mina, who encourages him to immerse himself in the Qur'an. Pretty soon, Mina falls for a Jewish doctor - the partner of Hayat's father and his new sense of purpose merges with his growing sense of "love" and confused feelings of betrayal.
It's not only an intriguing but also a timely premise, as thoughtful Americans strive to gain greater understanding of "what it means to be Muslim." And I believe the book has much to offer a young adult or mass market audience who likes a linear story with an educational twist. The story has an interesting protagonist, a story arc, and has much to say about the push and pull of secular, mystical, and religious Islam, the evolving role of women, and the confusion that accompanies growing up Muslim in America.
However, like many plot-driven made-for-TV movies, American Dervish doesn't dig nearly enough, not providing its characters with enough of an inner life, and sacrificing depth for a fluid story line. The result is often platitudes and melodrama, with messages strongly telegraphed.
Here is Hayat's mother, speaking to him: "Listen to me and never forget what I'm telling you. If you give yourself to filth and garbage, you will become filth and garbage. You will become the sum of what you desire...Promise me you won't end up like him." And here is Mina's Jewish suitor, Nathan: "The way he has those people beholden to him. It's revolting and immortal. And it has nothing to do with real Islam. Nothing at all." Or mother talking about her friend Mina: "I keep telling her the fact that Nathan's Jewish is a good thing. They understand how to respect women, behta. They understand how to let a woman be a woman, to let her take care of them."
Ayad Akhtar - an actor, playwright and novelist - is obviously striving to contribute to Muslim-Jewish (and Muslim-American) understanding, which is a very worthy goal and a good thing. But by leading the reader to conclusions and by simplifying premises, the book just doesn't rise to high literary standards. In a world where "unhappiness hovers" and "nerve ends teem", the novel is ultimately lacking. (2.5)
This book is exquisitely written! We are treated to glimpses of Islamic history and the Quran, enmeshed with the superlative plot. Strong character development is @ the helm of this terrific tale. Ayed Akhtar is a DIALOG GENIUS. The dialog so aptly evokes the personas of the cast of characters that their personalities are virtually tattooed on their foreheads. I can't remember when I last encountered such incredibly concise, descriptive dialog.
POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT: The author leaves adequate possibility for a sequel at the end of the story, i.e.,Hayat's post-pubescent relationship history and the uncertainty of Mina and Nathan's ultimate involvement...NMR
While this is an adult book I would recommend it to any parent looking for an excellent read for a teenager. It is a treatise on keeping an open mind.
Akhtar is such a gifted writer that he often gives us fully realized characters that arise from spare descriptions. I've read too many books where a character is composed of one or a few traits and the writer can't pull it off. Akhtar doesn't merely pull it off, he excels at it.
I learned a lot about Islam from "American Dervish", whose Muslim characters vary in their knowledge of, belief in and practice of Islam, much as Christians and Jews do. By setting the book in the 1970s Akhtar allows the reader to put aside 9/11 and the present state of fanatic Islam insofar as the consequences, but at the same time shows us the seeds of hate-filled fanaticism. And now that I've been presented with a spectrum of Muslim beliefs that includes moderates, I want to learn more.
(Upon finishing the book I watched the fascinating documentary "Koran By Heart", which is from 2011; my interest in seeing it and learning more is wholly a result of reading "American Dervish." It was the perfect follow-up to "Dervish", watching and listening to these inspiring real-life Hafiz. Rifdah, the young heroine of the film, will steal your heart as she shatters stereotypes of women in Islam.)
Speaking of stereotypes, the Jewish doctor, Nathan, in lesser hands could have been a stereotype and/or a mere plot device, but Akhtar's creation is anything but. Nathan is so realistic there were times I felt like I could hear his heart beating fast. After I finished I had even greater appreciation for the extent to which the author accomplishes a great deal with this one character, without ever being heavy-handed in his portrayal.
There's so much to love about this book. There are villains and heroes, but as in the best literature, sometimes a character is both. There is drama and suspense, and beauty in some slower passages, including one where the author poetically describes the chanting in a mosque. This varied pacing helps to make "American Dervish" a powerful and poignant book. Akhtar is so gifted it's easy to imagine, if he continues writing novels, some day he'll add a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction to the one he's received for Drama.