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.
Akhtar does a magnificent job threading his story through the dark, long-lashed eyes of Hayat, and it's through this lens that Akhtar captures his reader. Besotted with Mina's love and attention, yet torn by adolescent angst, Hayat's vulnerability propels the story as he works through American Dervish's multi-layered themes of race, religion and familial bonds. (Reviewed by Megan Shaffer).
Ultimately, Akhtar's debut reads like a melodramatic YA novel, not because of the age of its narrator but because of the abundance of lessons to be learned.
Film writer/director Akhtar has a partly cinematic style; it's acute but not cut-to-the-chase. Ripe for discussion.
Starred Review. Engaging and accessible, thoughtful without being daunting: This may be the novel that brings Muslim-American fiction into the commercial mainstream.
Manil Suri, author of The Death of Vishnu and The Age of Shiva
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.
Hooman Majd, author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ and The Ayatollahs' Democracy
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.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by M E Hayes Caught between two cultures. After hearing the interview on NPR with the author, Ayad Akhtar, I was intrigued.
This is a timely, contemporary novel concerning topics of religious freedoms, immigration, family ties and personal growth. Hayat, the narrator is young and... Read More
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