Summary and book reviews of American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

American Dervish

A Novel

by Ayad Akhtar

American Dervish
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2012, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2012, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Megan Shaffer

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Book Summary

American Dervish is a brilliantly written, nuanced, and emotionally forceful look inside the interplay of religion and modern life.

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.

Prologue: 1990

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

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

Below, I spied the vendor approaching: a burly man, thick around the waist, with a crimson-brown ponytail 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...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Dear Reader -

Growing up in the Midwest, I was always aware that my classmates and friends - and, later, my colleagues - had no idea what to make of Islam. It wasn't ignorance; they were good, smart people. They'd just never been exposed to it.

I wanted to write a book that gave the American audience a felt sense of what it was like to grow up Muslim in America. To render the faith's beauty, its simplicity, and its vivid spirituality. All of which I wanted to express in an American setting, in an American idiom. And yet, with Islam's beauty come - as with so many religions - more troubling traditions and tendencies. It was clear to me that no novel I could write would do the subject justice without also exposing some of these more ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

Full Review Members Only (719 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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.

Library Journal

Film writer/director Akhtar has a partly cinematic style; it's acute but not cut-to-the-chase. Ripe for discussion.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Engaging and accessible, thoughtful without being daunting: This may be the novel that brings Muslim-American fiction into the commercial mainstream.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Reader Reviews

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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Beyond the Book

The Devotion of a Hafiz

In American Dervish, Hayat is distraught over the behavior of his parents as they break with many of the teachings and traditions held in the Quran*. Fearing for their afterlife, Hayat sets out to become a hafiz, or one who memorizes the Quran by heart.

a Quran circa 1400 Originally, memorization of the teachings of the Quran were preferable to the written word. Not only could beautiful recitations be shared with the then largely illiterate population, but the oral tradition also served to protect the sacred verses from enemy capture or ruin.

Today, however, committing the entire text of the Quran to memory is seen as an incredible act of devotion, as the Quran holds some 6,200 verses (approximately 80,000 words). Such a feat takes years of ...

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