Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review: American Dervish

Summary: 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. -- Little Brown

I adored AMERICAN DERVISH by Ayad Akhtar so much that I'm afraid it's spoiled everything else I read these past few days. I just couldn't get enough of this book and I was actually sad to see it end. I had heard that there was a lot of buzz for this book -- BEA, Entertainment Weekly, and a few others; but I honestly might have appreciated it even more than I was expecting. I know it's still really early in 2012, but I have no doubt that AMERICAN DERVISH will go down as one of my top reads of the year. I loved it that much!

So you might be wondering just what made this book so special; and I can't easily point to just one or two things to discuss in this review. Suffice it to say that, for me, it was the entire reading experience. The writing was fantastic and the characters were so memorable; but it was the way this book made me think so much about life that made it superb. Rarely does a book affect me like this AMERICAN DERVISH did. In fact, I can't stop raving about it to all of my friends.

I mentioned that the writing in AMERICAN DERVISH was very good and I can't stress that enough. I can hardly believe that this is Mr. Akhtar's debut novel (and I hope he continues to write more!) The book dealt with some extremely complex issues, and yet, the book was incredibly easy to read. I think that's a credit to the author because not only was the pacing of the book just about perfect, but the prose and dialogue were spot-on. It also helps that he created an amazing character in Hayat!

And that brings me to my next point.. the characters in AMERICAN DERVISH (and particularly Hayat) were so real to me and they are still popping up in my thoughts almost a week after I finished the novel. I can't go so far as to say that I truly liked any one of them all of the time, but they all contributed to making this novel truly amazing.

Not surprising, the character that has most remained in my thoughts is Hayat. Hayat was a remarkable narrator for this story, and I was blown away by how well Mr. Akhtar brought this boy to life. I loved his naivete as well as his honesty, and it truly was a treat to see how he evolved into a young man. I was fascinated by his devotion to the Muslim faith, and the ways he interpreted the teachings. In addition, I appreciated seeing how the author juxtaposed Hayat's spiritual awakening with his sexual one. It was all just so well done!

If I were summing up this novel is just a few words, the first thing that would pop in my brain would be a coming-of-age story of a Muslim boy in America. At it's heart, I do think that's what AMERICAN DERVISH is. And because I do love coming-of age stories so much, this novel appealed to me from the get-go. However, AMERICAN DERVISH was much more than that to me too. This book touched upon so many important themes that are relevant in today's society. I could go on and on about many of the ways this novel made me think, but I'll just throw a few out there to show you how much this novel affected me.

AMERICAN DERVISH made me aware of the following:
  • Muslim beliefs
  • Growing up Muslim in America
  • Cultural differences
  • The different ways individuals can interpret the Quran (or any religious teaching)
  • How an individual can interpret religious doctrine differently depending on their age or what they are experiencing in their life
  • Male and female relationships
  • What a dervish is and how they were a recurring theme in this novel
  • And many, many more....
It's because of these reasons and many more that I think AMERICAN DERVISH would make an excellent book club pick. Of course, there is a reading guide with an interesting author interview as well as ten discussion questions. I always like taking a peek at the questions, but I have to tell you that I think this guide is particularly outstanding. I love, love, love these questions and I am anxious to discuss some of them with friends. (Now to just get someone to pick this novel for our book club in the near future!)

As if you can't already tell, I adored AMERICAN DERVISH! Just do me a favor and trust me on this one. I don't think you'll regret it.

I received an ARC of this novel at the 2011 BEA.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

As you know, I wasn't as taken with this as you, but at the same time, I really appreciate there being a book about coming of age as a Muslim in American!

Karlie said...

This looks like a fantastic read!

Mrs. Melissa said...

I'm excited to read this one as well - I love that its set in Wisconsin! Great Review!

Sandy Nawrot said...

There was quite a bit of talk about this book at SIBA this past September, and I think all of us that attended got a copy. Just need to make time, as always!

Carin Siegfried said...

I recently heard a fascinating interview with the author on NPR. It made me intrigued about the book. Glad you enjoyed it.

Just Mom said...

Threw my hat in the ring for thsi one on Goodreads - sounded good to me then and even better after reading your review!

bermudaonion said...

This sounds fantastic! Vance had a lot of Muslim friends when he was in high school and they're coming of age experiences were definitely different than the typical American teen's.

Serena said...

This sounds fantastic. These kinds of stories interest me.

Beth Hoffman said...

I've heard such good things about this book and just a few days ago added it to my TBR list!

Anonymous said...

I was intrigued by your review. Sounds like a great book that has a lot to teach

Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

Jenn's Bookshelves said...

My review went up today. I simply adored this book; it is truly a remarkable piece of fiction.