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American Dervish: A Novel Audio CD – Audiobook, Unabridged
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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
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.
Top Customer Reviews
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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.