Summary and book reviews of Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

Homeland Elegies

by Ayad Akhtar

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar X
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2021, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Grace Graham-Taylor
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Disgraced and American Dervish: an immigrant father and his son search for belonging -- in post-Trump America, and with each other.

A deeply personal work about identity and belonging in a nation coming apart at the seams, Homeland Elegies blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of longing and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque novel, at its heart it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home.

Ayad Akhtar forges a new narrative voice to capture a country in which debt has ruined countless lives and the gods of finance rule, where immigrants live in fear, and where the nation's unhealed wounds wreak havoc around the world. Akhtar attempts to make sense of it all through the lens of a story about one family, from a heartland town in America to palatial suites in Central Europe to guerrilla lookouts in the mountains of Afghanistan, and spares no one -- least of all himself -- in the process.

Overture: To America

I had a professor in college, Mary Moroni, who taught Melville and Emerson, and who the once famous Norman O. Brown—her mentor—called the finest mind of her generation; a diminutive, cherubic woman in her early thirties with a resemblance to a Raphaelesque putto that was not incidental (her parents had immigrated from Urbino); a scholar of staggering erudition who quoted as easily from the Eddas and Hannah Arendt as she did from Moby-Dick; a lesbian, which I only mention because she did, often; a lecturer whose turns of phrase were sharp as a German paring knife, could score the brain's gray matter and carve out new grooves along which old thoughts would reroute, as on that February morning two weeks after Bill Clinton's first inauguration, when, during a class on life under early American capitalism, Mary, clearly interrupted by her own tantalizing thought, looked up from the floor at which she usually gazed as she spoke—her left hand ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The narrator of Homeland Elegies is Ayad Akhtar, a playwright who shares the same name as the author. How did this affect your experience of reading the novel?
  2. How does Akhtar's choice of part titles ("Overture," "Coda," etc.) bring additional meaning to the story? Are you familiar with these terms as they relate to musical works?
  3. In the Overture, the narrator's professor describes America as "a place still defined by its plunder, where enrichment was paramount and civil order always an afterthought." Do you agree with this criticism? When the characters in the novel are focused on becoming rich, does this striving make them happy?
  4. How would you describe the difference between Ayad's parents, in terms of their views on being in America...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Through stories of not only his father but many individuals, the author attempts to portray the American experience as a whole. Like a literary Cubist, he draws upon the perspectives of both insiders and outsiders, showing a panoptic vision that brings us closer to understanding the nation's true form. Though telling stories of the past, Homeland Elegies ties itself to the present through the figure of Donald Trump. Trump looms throughout, an ominous specter in the book's peripheral vision, foreshadowing a future in which we all now live. However, it is not Trump that Akhtar is interested in — rather, it is the casualties of the system that made his election possible...continued

Full Review Members Only (642 words).

(Reviewed by Grace Graham-Taylor).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Homeland Elegies is presented as a novel, Akhtar’s second, but often reads like a series of personal essays, each one illustrating yet another intriguing facet of the narrator’s prismatic identity...Akhtar arranges people and situations with a dramatist’s care to expose the fault lines where community or communication cracks. Sometimes, the pieces seem almost too carefully arranged.

Washington Post
Homeland Elegies is a phenomenal coalescence of memoir, fiction, history and cultural analysis. It would not surprise me if it wins him a second Pulitzer Prize...It's a poetic confession of the agony of trying to articulate a nuanced critique of faith and politics in an age of shrieking partisanship...Everywhere one can hear Akhtar’s award-winning ear for dialogue that conveys the unexpected rhythms of conversation and drama... the book demonstrates the ills warping both East and West with stories rooted in the author’s own experience, bravely diagnosing what it means to struggle, humiliatingly, for acceptance in a racist country.

Booklist
Akhtar confronts issues of race, money, family, politics, and sexuality in a bold, memoiristic tale...with an array of fascinating characters with different insights into the American character.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A] searing work of autofiction...this is a novel of restless exploration that finds no pat answers about what it means to be a Muslim American today. A profound and provocative inquiry into an artist's complex American identity.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Akhtar's work is a provocative and urgent examination of the political and economic conditions that shape personal identity, especially for immigrants and communities of color. With an audacious channeling of Philip Roth's warts-and-all approach to the story of an American writer and his family, this tragicomedy is a revelation.

Library Journal (starred review)
The personal is political in this beautiful, intense elegy for an America that often goes awry while still offering hope.

Author Blurb Salman Rushdie
An unflinchingly honest self-portrait by a brilliant Muslim-American writer, and, beyond that, an unsparing examination of both sides of that fraught hyphenated reality. Passionate, disturbing, unputdownable.

Author Blurb A. M. Homes, author of This Book Will Save Your Life and Days of Awe
An urgent, intimate hybrid of memoir and fiction, Homeland Elegies thrusts us into the heart of a father-son relationship and, in the process--improbably--does nothing short of laying bare the broken heart of our American dream turned reality TV nightmare. The book's dissection of the deeply human desire to aspire and dream, and its illumination of the quest for success, brilliantly captures how we got to this exact moment in time and at what cost. Stunning.

Author Blurb Jennifer Egan, author of Manhattan Beach and A Visit From the Goon Squad
At the core of this flashing, kinetic coil of a story -- part 1001 Nights, part Reality TV -- is a passionate, wrenching portrayal of Americans exiled into 'otherness'.

Author Blurb Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend
With Homeland Elegies, Ayad Akhtar has found the perfect hybrid form for his exuberant, insightful, and wickedly entertaining epic about Muslim immigrants and their American-born children. A deeply moving father-and-son story unfolds against tumultuous current events in a book that anyone wanting to know how we as a nation got where we are today -- and into what dark wood we might be heading tomorrow -- should read.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Origins of Islam in Pakistan

Mahmud of Ghazni In Homeland Elegies, author Ayad Akhtar explores Pakistani characters' relationships to Islam. The roots of Islam in the area now known as Pakistan can be traced back almost as far as the birth of the religion itself. As early as the 7th century, Arab armies attempted to spread Islam to the Indian subcontinent, but it took centuries for it to establish a true presence there.

At the time Arab forces began their conquests, the region that makes up present-day Pakistan was in a period of political instability. Invading nomadic groups, along with warfare between the Persians (who controlled large portions of territory) and the Byzantines, had made the area unsafe and disrupted trade routes. In addition, some parts of the region were ...

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Readalikes

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