American Dervish

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Title: American Dervish 
Author: Ayad Akhtar 
Pages: 357  
Audio Narrated by: Ayad Akhtar 
Audio Hours: 9 hours, 28 minutes
Genre: Fiction  
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co. (Hachette)
Audio Publisher: Hachette Audio
Pub. Date: January 9, 2012

American Dervish is a coming-of-age story of sorts. It tells the story of Hayat Shah, a Muslim Pakistani American growing up in Wisconsin. Adolescence is difficult enough without having to learn to manage a cultural divide, and American Dervish follows Hayat as he learns to do just this. We enter the main part of the story when Hayat is 10-years-old. Hayat's parents appreciate their culture but are fairly mainstream in terms of their lifestyle. But then they bring Hayat's "aunt" Mina from Pakistan to save her from her wrecked marriage. Everyone is drawn to Mina, including Hayat. Mina starts teaching Hayat about the Qur'an and encourages him to study to become a Hafiz (one who memorizes the entire Qur'an). Much to his parents' dismay, Hayat passionately takes on this religious study. In the meantime, Mina meets and falls for a Jewish doctor whom Hayat likes well enough but dislikes for his Judaism. Hayat naively acts on this, and this ironically innocent act of hatred leads to unforeseen consequences which ultimately aim to teach Hayat about life and about what Islam really means.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I haven't read many (any?) Muslim coming-of-age books, and it was interesting to learn from Mina about the Qur'an along with Hayat. I loved some of the insights she relayed, whether they were talking about the Qur'an or life in general. I didn't bookmark it so I don't have the exact quote, but her explanation of what happens to people who keep their pain inside (they become their pain, feel they deserve pain, etc.) was so astute (and something I thought I could use in therapy!) I had a lot of these moments in the first half of the book. I'll admit, though, that as the story progressed and Hayat became more immersed, I became more uncomfortable. There were a couple moments when I felt like the philosophical talk about Islam became a little too much that I started to feel detached from the story. But it could also have been my discomfort with Hayat as well. Especially as he starts to really think negatively about Jewish people at one point; I'm not Jewish, but it was still uncomfortable for me. He starts to ignorantly take on beliefs without really thinking through them and often doesn't think them through unless something happens or, as in one instance, his mother confronts him about the ridiculousness of what he is saying.Despite my discomfort, I was so absorbed in the story and the things that happened to the family. The experiences that the others had, not just Hayat, in dealing with their culture and faith while living in America were interesting. And it was disheartening in some ways, because they weren't always able to just be themselves or follow their true desires because of the pressures and expectations from others of their heritage.

Jill mentioned in her review her disappointment in Hayat and his failure to grow as a character throughout the book.  I read that when I was about halfway through so it was on my mind a little, and I do have to agree that Hayat's growth was fairly superficial. I did find myself immersed in the story and his journey, though, so for me American Dervish was still really enjoyable.

It's also possible, however, that I enjoyed this book because I listened to it on audio (which I haven't done much of but hope to get into more). I didn't realize right away that the author narrates the book himself. And I only thought to look because I was really enjoying his narration. He has a nice reading voice, and he did an excellent job with the different voices which involved various Pakistani accents, a Boston accent, and a couple times a female Wisconsin accent. I looked him up and turns out the author is also a trained actor which would account for the great audio performance. Despite some of its flaws, there are some really interesting aspects to this story, and I would still recommend it.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm going to look and see if OCLS has this on audio. I do have the book - got it at SIBA - and really want to read it. I'm just swamped right now and reading print at a snail's pace. I have read both good and not so good about this book, but everyone is talking about it and I feel left out!

Zibilee said...

I also have this book waiting on me, and need to take the time to read it so that I can discuss it with a few people. It does sound complex in the emotions that it provokes and the way that the plot is handled, but I am curious about the lack of real growth of the main character. It will be interesting to see what I think of it. I will also be coming back to your review as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it with us!

Aarti said...

I really like the title and cover of this book and I think it would be really interesting to read a coming-of-age tale about a subculture in America. Great review!

bermudaonion said...

I don't think I've ever read a coming of age story featuring a Muslim either, but I've known quite a few Muslim kids. I'm intrigued by this book.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think the question of whether a book is better listened to or read is so interesting. Especially when there are accents, people seem to love the audio! I wonder how I would have felt listening!

softdrink said...

I was excited when I first heard about this book, but then less excited after Jill's review (and also somewhat relieved, because I certainly don't need another book begging to be read). Now I'm just conflicted!

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I bought this book as soon as it came out, and I think I'll be picking it up really soon. It sounds like a book I would really love. Great review!

Anita said...

I have this book, and I'm looking forward to it. I skimmed your review, to not impact my thoughts really. Looking forward to it!!

Meg @ A Bookish Affair said...

I'm sort of intrigued by this one!

Booksnyc said...

I recently received this book and am looking forward to reading it. I have been watching All American Muslim on TLC and have become fascinated by the Muslim culture in the US.

karen marie said...

Great review! Have been DYING to read this one :) It's definitely on my "hurry up and get to this!" list ... hehe

Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

I have an ARC of this but I am really getting into audio. I may try it!

Post a Comment